Tag Archives: King in Darkness

Straight into Darkness

Yesterday, Tom Petty died. The frantic media rushed out with the news, then walked it back, and now finally confirmed it. I am tremendously sad at the loss of this artist whose work I have loved.

I’m not the right person to speak to his place in musical history, but in my own story his part looms large. With The Tragically Hip, his tunes were the ones I played most often all through university and have continued to listen to right up to the present day. I think I like him for many of the same reasons I like the blues – most of his songs are about things we all have experience with. Feeling like an outsider. Being let down by people you care about. The world being a place that keeps pushing you around. Petty’s lyrics are clever and fun to listen to, his music strikes me as more down to earth than anything else, and he has been among my musical companions through a lot of good and bad times.

Music has, at times, a special ability to make good times feel better and bad times not feel so bad, and Tom Petty has done that for me time and time again. Thanks for the tunes, Mr. Petty.

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Even as the artists we love sometimes leave us, there are always new ones out there to discover. I have recently started reading The Bone Mother by David Demchuk, and although I’ve hardly cracked the thing I’m already very impressed by the quality of the writing, his skill with creating mood and conveying a sense of a time and place. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this book and need to stop myself sitting up stupidly late reading it.

Demchuk’s writing is also, undeniably, horror. From time to time I stray into thinking that what I write could be considered horror, too. Then, I will read the work of a real artist of the genre (among which I feel perfectly safe including Demchuk, already) and be reminded, that no, it really isn’t. ‘Supernatural thriller’ is a pretty fair label for my books, perhaps even ‘urban fantasy’, but they’re not horror. I hope they’re entertaining, and I hope perhaps there are some scares in there, but the stories are not horror stories.

What do you need for a horror story? It’s hard for me to really put my finger on it. In some ways, it is one of those ‘you know it when you see it’, or read it, moments. You will never have any doubt when you are reading a horror story, or watching one, or in one. It goes beyond just being frightening (because fantasy and SF can both cause fear, without being horrifying), and it doesn’t necessarily involve gore or violence. (Some good horror does, lots of stories splash blood everywhere without being the least bit horrifying.)

It’s very hard (for me, anyway), to define usefully. One thing that I think good horror has is a disturbing quality. There’s something about the characters, the situation, the resolution in a horror story that is pervasively unsettling. It challenges your comfortable assumptions about people and the world. It makes you question things that you wouldn’t ordinarily question. There are, of course, almost inevitably monsters, but the monsters may not be the real problem; it’s what the monsters reveal about ourselves and the worlds that we have built.

I think good horror makes us look at places that we’d prefer not to. That’s why it’s unsettling so much of the time; a good part of your being is telling you to look away, and you’re resisting that. Horror fiction makes you think about things you ordinarily wouldn’t.

Now, the scares are there, too. Part of the joy of horror stories is the joy of the roller coaster: the feeling of danger while knowing, ultimately, that you’re safe. The ride will end. You can close the book.

Where I think really good horror hits hard, though, is that it takes you to places, and makes you think about things, that don’t entirely go away when the book is closed. It’s made you at least reconsider some things that you would have preferred to consider immutable. It’s made your mind wander down a couple of dark and twisty paths that you would have preferred not to tread.

I’m not sure that I’ll never write a horror story, but reading The Bone Mother reminds me that no, I haven’t done it yet. I do love reading them, though.

——

Of course, the real horror story is what happened in Las Vegas on October 1st. I have, I think, nothing at all to say except that the violence is awful and the loss of life overwhelmingly sad. I don’t think I will ever understand the ‘thing’ America has with guns, and as an outsider it’s not a debate I can usefully be part of. There are lots of points of view that I disagree with, but I can at still understand where they’re coming from, and thus have some idea how to start to engage with them. In this case, though, I see people posting on friends’ social media that ‘you’ll never take our guns, and God help you if you try’ and I just don’t understand it at all. I think gun violence in the United States can never really be solved as long as that mode of thinking stays so vital to so many people, but I also just feel, as I always do, that we have to stop killing each other.

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S.M. Carriere wrote a lovely review of The King in Darkness. You can read it here.

We’re under two weeks away from Can*Con! I’m so excited about this and looking forward to what I think will be a fantastic weekend for readers and writers of SFF. Details and registration here.

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Review

Ottawa author Brandon Crilly has posted a wonderful review of The King in Darkness over at Black Gate.  Black Gate publishes an amazing array of articles on things related to fantasy fiction, and you should check them out if you haven’t already.

Read Brandon’s review here.

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On Barb, and Hugh

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will have seen me gush about the Netflix series Stranger Things, which is one of my favourite things on TV (or whatever we’re calling it when stuff ‘airs’ on Netflix) in a very long while. Stranger Things is a wonderful, creative piece of SFF and I hope there’s more in its vein to come. If you poke around on social media you’ll see lots of people having passionate reactions to the show and its characters, and there’s one in particular that has stuck out at me and that I wanted to write about today.

[[ IMPORTANT NOTE: The rest of this entry contains spoilers for some parts of Stranger Things, so if you are the sort of person who is bothered by spoilers as well as not having seen the show yet, stop reading now and I’ll see you next week, or after you’ve watched the series. By the way, if you read this blog and you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, I heartily recommend going and doing so. It’s very good. ]]

And we’re back.

Fans of the show have reacted very strongly to the performances of Winona Ryder (who I thought was very good), David Harbour (who I also thought was great), and both the character of Eleven and the actor who portrays her, Millie Bobbie Brown (who is amazing). None of that surprises me, but there is also a reasonably vocal discussion centring around a character that does surprise me a little: Nancy’s friend Barb.

Barb is pulled into the Upside Down by the monster towards the end of episode 2, and unlike Will Byers is unable to survive long enough to get rescued (she’s somewhat disadvantaged by starting off in an Upside Down echo of an empty pool), apparently dying in episode 3 with her fate confirmed by Eleven in episode 7. Although Nancy is deeply worried about her friend, we don’t see the same reaction to Barb’s disappearance as there was for Will Byers, and I think this is part of what has led to people being upset or unsatisfied with how the story treats her.

(It is true that there is some narrative justification for this; the Shadowy Government Lab fabricates a story that Barb has run away rather than mysteriously disappeared as Will did, with only Nancy and Hopper being aware of the truth for most of the series. It is still probably a fair point that we don’t then see a lot of concern about Barb having ‘run away’, although it’s also fair to say the relatively tight schedule the show is on didn’t leave it a lot of room to show this.)

In any case if you poke around online you’ll find a lot of affection for Barb’s character, as well as dissatisfaction (some perhaps tongue in cheek) with her story, that we didn’t get more of it, and that she doesn’t get the (relatively) happy ending that Will Byers did. Part of what’s going on is that the Duffer Brothers created a character that was interesting and engaging enough that a lot of their audience bought in to her during episodes 1 and 2, so that they wanted more of her story and perhaps a different ending to it. From a writer’s perspective, getting the audience hooked into a character who is going to be a victim is exactly what you want – you want that loss or death to hit home and not get shrugged off. The dissatisfaction, though, isn’t what you want, and the two things are shades-of-meaning apart.

I had a slightly similar experience with my own writing, during the editing process for King in Darkness. There’s one character, Hugh, who I called into being solely for one specific scene. (Yeah, I’m restricting the spoilers of my own story. It’s my blog and I’ll be inconsistent if I want to.) You meet him slightly earlier to establish that he exists, then he does his scene and (I thought) he disappears unproblematically from the stage thereafter. I didn’t, to be honest, expect that anyone would get particularly interested in or attached to Hugh (sorry, imaginary person) and that he’d basically vanish into Stage Left, his purpose served, and no-one would mind one way or the other. (really sorry, imaginary person)

Didn’t work out that way. All of the editors for King in Darkness gave me notes to the effect of ‘need closure about Hugh’, ‘what happens to Hugh?’, ‘we need to see how things work out with Hugh’. Basically as soon as more than one editor calls for something, I figure it Must Be Done, and so I wrote a new scene that ties up Hugh’s part of the story a little more completely for the final draft of the book. I think it made the story better in the end and I feel like I have now done better by one of my imaginary people.

The more important part of the process, though, was realizing that people might latch on to characters that I didn’t expect them to, and didn’t intend them to. I’m still not sure exactly what it was that made people want to know how things worked out for Hugh in King in Darkness (I kind of wish I did, so that I could sprinkle that magic on future imaginary people) but obviously there was just enough there to get the people who read the manuscript to get bought into him, and his story, enough to want there to be more of it than I originally planned to give.

I suspect (and of course, it’s just a guess) that this is what has happened with Barb in Stranger Things. She’s not written as a major character, she appears to have been created as a way to get Nancy actively engaged in trying to solve the mystery of what is going on in Hawkins, and probably also to indicate to the audience in an impactful way that the monster that took Will is an ongoing threat. Lots of stories, horror stories and others, have these ‘victim’ characters in them that serve this kind of narrative purpose, as well as providing a moment of terror or pity when they meet their doom.

However, Barb’s fate, and the reaction of the world of Stranger Things to it, does touch on wider issues of female characters in fiction, and in SF/horror in particular, where they have all to often simply been used as recipients of violence and/or motivators for male characters. I believe I’ve touched on the Women in Refrigerators issue before, and people have made the argument that Barb fits into this pattern as well (despite not being a superhero, although the concept has I think been broadened to think about how female characters get treated in SFF in general). Looking at things from a plot perspective, the main thing Barb’s character does is to be a second (well, third) victim for the monster and thus provide Nancy (who is a main character) her motivation to get involved in trying to figure out what is happening in town, thus hooking her into the main stream of events leading up to the climax.  This does tick some problematic boxes, ‘female character as victim/motivator’ in particular.

It’s also true that Barb is not used to motivate a male character – in fact part of the issue people have with what happened to Barb is that some of our male characters don’t seem to particularly react to what happens to her. Her disappearance is a motivating factor for another female character, one who does not settle into a passive role and becomes an active part of driving the plot forward. I would argue that’s an important distinction. (I also think that although Hopper doesn’t really seem to react much to what happens to Barb, he’s already pretty fully engaged in trying to figure out what’s going on in Hawkins by the point, and Will’s disappearance probably has more personal impact for him because Will is closer in age to his deceased daughter) I don’t think the intention of pointing out the Women in Refrigerators issue was to say, either, that you can’t ever have a female character who is a victim in a story, just that it can be a lazy plot device and that it seemed to happen to female characters in comics disproportionately. For what it’s worth I think Barb’s role in the plot is both important and handled with relative care (we don’t see a lot of fallout from her disappearance, but it’s more than Benny gets!). I think, overall, Stranger Things presented some really strong and interesting female characters and so, overall, I think the Duffers deserve far more praise than criticism here.

I also wonder if, since Barb is not one of the ‘cool kids,’ and appears to fit kind of awkwardly into her social world, that since SFF tends to attract a reasonable proportion of the socially awkward, shy and introverted to its audience (definitely include me in that number), that audience saw ‘themselves’ in her a little bit, and that’s part of why her fate has attracted as much discussion as it has. Barb is kind of like many of us in the audience, so we want to root for her a bit and are extra disappointed when things end badly for her. Which gets us back to the idea of the audience getting attached to characters you maybe didn’t expect them to, as a writer. In the end, to me, it’s a really cool feeling when someone reads my stuff and feels a connection to it. One of my favourite things in the time that King in Darkness has been out has been hearing from people who read it and dug one or more of the characters; sometimes ones I expected people to like and sometimes ones I didn’t.

I think it’s a great gift as a writer to have your characters end up having an impact on people and mattering to them; it’s very hard to think of a better compliment from a reader. (Aside, perhaps, from ‘please write more’) I hope that’s how the Duffer Brothers are taking the reaction to Barb in Stranger Things. They created a whole cast of characters that their audience really bought into, and left many of them wanting a little more about one of them. I hope they continue to give us the same rich selection of imaginary people in their next project.

And perhaps I’ll write a little more of Hugh’s story one day.

Thanks for reading.

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Head Up

So despite my repeated assurances that this is not going to become Evan’s Running Blog, in the interests of Having Something To Write this week – you know I really did have a kind of interesting train of thought while out for my run the other day.

Going through the difficult part of the run, (basically every run that I do has a difficult part) I had to do the usual thing of talking myself out of several bad behaviours that start to happen when I start to get tired. I have to remind myself not to put my head down – this compresses the lungs and partly closes the throat, so it makes breathing more difficult. I have to remind myself not to shorten my stride, which results in needing to make more steps to cover ground and therefore burns more energy than my normal form would. I have to remind myself to relax my shoulders, so that I’m not wasting energy by tensing the muscles there; same deal with unclenching my jaw.

I have long found it curious, and a little frustrating, that the body’s instincts (or, at least, my body’s instincts, although this seems to be common) are, in a moment of difficulty, to do things that are not only unhelpful, but actually counterproductive. It would seem (in my extraordinarily poor understanding of evolution) that it would make more sense if the natural tendency was to instinctively adopt behaviours that are more efficient, rather than less, as exertion increases, and therefore do better at what the body is currently trying to do. Instead, without thinking about it, my body switches to a bunch of things that only make what I’m trying to do more difficult to accomplish. The only conclusion I’ve ever reached when I think about this is that the instinctive part of my body has decided that the best thing to do would be to stop running, and so it’s ‘trying’ to do things that will make that happen.

However that may be, its frustrating to feel that I’m ‘naturally’ reaching for things that are making what I’m trying to do harder and working against my own interests (finishing my run as soon and as easily as possible) in the moment. It also occurred to me that running isn’t the only time this happens. I know it happens with writing, sometimes.

When a writing project is going well, I can’t get enough of it and am basically constantly looking for excuses to write a little more of it. When it stops going well, unfortunately my natural instinct is to leave it aside for a while, which is exactly the wrong thing to do because whatever it is will never get better, and never get finished, if I don’t work on it. I even do this with particular parts of a work; if there’s a scene or piece of dialogue that I can’t figure out how to make work, I will (as I think I’ve written before) skip over it (sometimes leaving myself a helpful note like FIX THIS LATER or THIS IS TERRIBLE) and write something else for a while, which certainly relieves the short-term frustation of not being able to make that particular bit work, but doesn’t fix the actual problem. The only way it gets fixed is to sit and try some different approaches and write some bloody stuff down and eventually figure out a way to come up with something that reads approximately ok.

Just as when I’m running, it seems inevitable that these things will happen, and what I mostly have to do is remind myself (again) not to follow my counterproductive, contrary-to-my-actual-interests instincts, and do the things that currently feel difficult, but will get me where I need to go in the end. Open that document. Go to that scene, erase my despairing little note, and jigger around with words until it does work. Much the same as getting my head up and lengthening my stride again, even though this feels like something I desperately don’t want to do, it’s the only thing that get what I want done, done.

It also occurs to me that there is perhaps a parallel to recent political events here, regarding the appeal of figures like Donald Trump, and Nigel Farage, where in times of difficulty we may find ourselves attracted to ‘solutions’ that are not actually in our best interests, and end up doing things that won’t actually improve the situation we’re in, and may make it worse, just as my bad running behaviours do. I know you probably don’t come here for politics, though, and so I think I’ll take this no further this morning.

I will also say that I read a fascinating article a long time ago (long enough that I can’t find it this morning to link it for you) that suggested that human beings had once depended on running distances as a hunting strategy. The reasoning was that humans, without tools and weapons, were not strong enough to defeat many animals in a straight fight, nor swift enough to catch many in a short pursuit, and so what they would have had to do was make a long pursuit over a significant distance in order to bring their prey down more or less through sheer bloody exhaustion. So running, despite the behaviours I complain about above, is part of our instinctive core after all. I have no idea if that theory holds the slightest bit of water, but as a runner I kind of like it, and I also like the idea that, despite a tendency to sometimes do counterproductive and negative things in times of crisis, our better selves are still down there as well, even if we sometimes have to remind ourselves about them.

Head up. Have a great week.

—-

Apt 613 did a very kind review of The King in Darkness, for which I am very grateful. You can read it here.

The Limestone Genre Expo has released its final schedule, which I am even on! Check it out here, and its not too late to make plans to attend if you’d like a weekend of great reader-y writer-y fun in Kingston. I’m really looking forward to it and looking forward to meeting some new people there.

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Year One

It was a year (plus a few days ago) that I got the news that Renaissance Press was interested in publishing The King in Darkness. It’s somewhat amazing that so much time has already passed. I’ve learned a great deal in those 365 days and I thought I’d write a little about that on the blog today.

I learned to appreciate professional editors a great deal. The manuscript had been read through by several friends whose opinions I value, went through a local writers’ circle, and of course I had been through it many, many times. I really expected the editors to find very little.

Then the first editor sent me 30 pages of notes. (Not, to be clear, notes on 30 pages, but a word document, 30 pages long, consisting of nothing but corrections and suggested changes.) I sat and looked at that for a while, and then got to work. I try not to give out very much advice here, since I’m quite a new author, but if anyone is reading this and thinking of getting their own work published, make sure you secure the services of a professional editor. You’ll get your money’s worth.

(I should point out that the next editor, and the next, also sent me substantial notes to work on.)

I really felt like that process was the beginning of becoming something roughly resembling a professional writer. It’s one thing to write down the strange ideas I have running around in my head and share them with friends and family; it’s quite another to try to make them into a product that might appeal to anybody. It wasn’t always easy – sometimes the best decision for the text meant changing something I like – but it was a great educational process.

I think I’ve learned a fair amount about social media – my Twitter following has increased substantially, I have a Facebook page and I’m getting to grips with Goodreads and Instagram, slowly – but one of the things I’ve learned is that I’m not entirely sure how much practical good it does. I enjoy interacting with people and I hope some of what I do is interesting or entertaining, but from a shamelessly mercenary perspective, I’m not sure how much of the time I invested in it turned into people reading my book who otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe it made a big difference. Maybe it didn’t. I’m not sure how one tells. Fortunately, messing around on the internet is great fun so I’m likely to keep doing it anyway.

The most fun new thing from the past year has been getting to go to several conventions and interact with the public. This was something I had (again) really never done before and for a naturally shy person it took some adjustment. However, once I got used to it, I really enjoyed myself. I got to meet people with immense passion for SFF books, movies and TV and spend some time sharing those interests. I got to be a part of panel discussions that really made me feel like A Writer. The costumes were amazing.

All of this basically to say that the past year has been a tremendously fun ride. I’m already looking forward to what’s coming up in the months ahead. The big one, of course, should getting to share Bonhomme Sept-Heures with all of you. Renaissance has some exciting plans that I’m very excited to be a part of.

Thank you for your part in it all for reading the blog – I hope you’ll stick around a while yet.

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Review

Yesterday I was very excited to see the first review of The King in Darkness come out – also juuust a tiny bit nervous.  However, I’m very pleased and grateful for the kind things they had to say.

Read the review here.

Thank you to The Geeky Godmother for her thoughts on the book and for writing up the review.

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Can-Con

Last week’s entry was very grumpy but I have fuel for a much more upbeat entry this week. (Also presumably a subject upon which Wil Wheaton will not immediately release a column, but if he does it will be a cool trick) This past weekend I attended the Can-Con SFF convention in Ottawa and I had such a groovy time I wanted to talk about it a little today.

This was my first convention as a panelist and ‘guy with something to sell’ so it was all a very new experience. Getting to be a part of discussions that were all about the weird stuff I write, having intelligent, passionate people want to discuss them as well, was very cool and felt good. It was also just fun to get to sit around and talk about books and authors and ideas we all love for a while without feeling like there was something else that I was really supposed to be doing.

I had a good time hanging out at the Renaissance Press booth, meeting other writers and readers, and I got an amazing amount of support for my book. I hope everyone who picked up The King in Darkness enjoys the read and I hope to hear what they all think of it when they’re done.  I spoke with people who have been at the stage of things that I’m at, and had great advice.  I got my picture taken with the same crochet TARDIS that has posed next to Sylvester McCoy and Neil Gaiman.

I met Peter Halasz, who works with the Sunburst Awards and (I learned) is an amazing advocate of Canadian speculative fiction. He was also enthusiastic about The King in Darkness, which meant a lot to a beginning writer, even if he promised to hunt me down if he doesn’t like it. I also got to say a ‘thank you’ in person to Hayden Trenholm of Bundoran Press, whose comments on a ‘how to pitch’ panel at last year’s convention fixed mine and helped me find a home at Renaissance Press. Those are just two of the highlights but I met people that I am proud and pleased to share (in some fashion) a community with and it was immense fun.

Ultimately it was just very good to be surrounded by people who are writers and/or love writing and fans of fantastic fiction. It’s very energizing to be around people who value the same things you do and think that the kind of stuff I’m working on is (on some level) interesting and exciting. There is a lot of talk about validation and so forth that often ends up sounding very new-agey and motivation poster-y but I think it is true that sometimes you need a pat on the head or a slap on the back to redouble your efforts, and Can-Con was a big weekend long slap on the back for me.

So, because of all that, thank you to all the volunteers who worked hard making the weekend happen, to Derek Kunsken and Marie Bilodeau and all the other people who I don’t yet know who organized the con and did a fantastic job creating such a lovely environment for lovers of strange stories. I hope to be part of it again next year, and I’ll be there one way or the other!

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——

Work continues on the sequel to The King in Darkness and early returns from the Eager Volunteers are positive on what I have done so far. I’m hoping to perhaps have a manuscript ready for the publishers by March, and then perhaps the new book will be out next autumn. We’ll have to see.

I will be at PopExpo in a couple weeks – details still to come.

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Pay the Artists

This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for a while and I keep putting it off because I know it will make me sound more than a little grumpy, but today’s the day. I suppose I have been slightly triggered off by the closing of an opera company in Ottawa last week. I made the mistake of reading the comments (forgetting what is perhaps the most essential rule of the internet), many of which predictably said that it was the company’s own fault for setting ticket prices too high, that art isn’t a priority for people right now, and that if artists want an audience they should offer their work for free.

This is all nonsense.

We are a society that loves art. I suspect this is true world-wide, but I’ll stick with Western society for today. We love it to the extent that it is very rare to find a person who doesn’t appreciate it, at all. Really. Try and think of someone you know who doesn’t like any movies or television shows, doesn’t enjoy any music, does not have any pictures they like to have up around their home or as the background on their computer or phone, and never reads any stories. If you like even one of those things, you like art. (I left out sculpture, going to the theatre and probably some others.) This is (obviously) not to say that everyone likes every kind of art, or that we like all kinds of art equally, but as a society, we don’t just like art. We love it.

We play our music (different kinds, sure) all over the place and throughout the day. We put up images in almost every space we move through and occupy. We are storytellers and lovers of story; currently television is probably our most popular way to experience them, but that doesn’t change the basic truth that we make stories an important part of our lives as well – Appointment Television – as the immense success of Game of Thrones and Walking Dead easily attest. So let’s set aside the idea that art isn’t important to us. Demonstrably, palpably not the case.

Our problem is that we don’t then seem to want to support the people who create all these things. Put bluntly, we don’t want to pay the artists. Yes, of course, there are musicians and actors and writers who are stupendously wealthy. However, if you spend a little time speaking with people in artistic fields, you will quickly learn that it is Bloody Difficult. It’s extraordinarily hard to make a living, or part of a living, from art. It is really a rare few who are able to support themselves entirely from their art, and thus devote themselves to it completely. Most artists do one or several other jobs to support themselves, and then get the art in where they can.

Many people will now be thinking that this is the expectation, and you’re right that it is. The ‘starving artist’ is a cliche, and one that we tend to laugh at. There are endless jokes about waiters and actors. We seem to regard it as basically fine that if you want to be an artist, you will probably be poor and probably have to do other things to pay the rent. In the popular mind, it’s part of the gig, this despite our love of art noted above. (You would think, given our love of art, that we would cherish our artists and support them lavishly. Not how it seems to work out.)

We don’t do this with other professions, though. You don’t graduate from university with your MBA (remember that many artists have been to university and have one or several degrees in their field, and their craft) and then get told that the understanding is that you’ll work serving tables most of the time, squeezing in your business work between shifts and hoping to have an understanding boss, while you gain experience and hope to make your reputation. It isn’t expected that you will do a lot of it for free (for the exposure!) and put off making any money from your labour to some distant day. We don’t make jokes about the ‘starving biochemists’ just getting started in their field; absolutely, every trade has its ‘entry level’ and the expectation that you must work your way up, but not the expectation that you will do a whole other job to subsidize perhaps getting started in the work you want to do.

Artists do these things because they love their art. It is a great gift to create and (here I speak from experience) leaves one very sad to stop. They persist, as long as they do, in their craft because it is just that important to them, that they are willing to scramble around and find ways to Make It Work while still doing their art and expressing what is inside them. Of course, it brings them pleasure. It should bring them more than that.

The reason it is so difficult for people to make a living in art is, increasingly, that we don’t want to pay for it. We don’t want our tax money goes towards art (it is inevitably the first thing cut when a budget appears difficult to balance, and objections are usually minimal), and we are relentless in wanting to get our art for cheaper, and hopefully for free. Want a crowd? Lower ticket prices. Want someone to read your book? Put it up for free download on the internet. Both of those things will probably work, but leave unanswered the question of how these artists are supposed to support themselves in their craft.

Art does require work, constant work. Besides the actual creative process – whether that is learning a part, rehearsing your songs, or writing – you need time to practice and study your craft, to stay at a level where you can produce good work. You may need to do research, speak to other artists, and hopefully to your audience, too. Increasingly, you’ll need to spend some time promoting and marketing yourself as well. Of course you can do none of these things if the rent isn’t paid and there’s no food in the house, yet.

Many wonderful, creative people give up on their art because they just can’t afford to continue to support themselves in it; these are singers we will never hear and writers who we will never read. We love art, we want it to surround us and to consume it, but we’re reluctant at best to support the process by which that art reaches us.

Now there is, unquestionably, some level of market demand stuff going on and no, not everyone who likes to create is thereby instantly entitled to a living in the arts. As in any field there will be successes and failures, somewhat (although I suspect not as closely as we might think) tied to levels of skill and talent. So it goes, but I can’t help but feel that the pendulum has currently swung quite heavily against our creative people, in recent years. Our next great painter may be giving up on their craft because they need to work more hours to pay the bills. You may never hear your new favourite musician because they have no place to play and no way to be heard. Now, many people will say that if you give up, you just didn’t want it enough, but that’s the sort of thing that’s easy to say when one is not making that choice in the face of this month’s unpaid rent cheque.

Artists, ultimately, need to get paid. It isn’t being entitled to say, in our relentlessly capitalist society, that you should get at least a little compensation from the enjoyment something you created brings. Art does not need to be, and shouldn’t be, a road to instant riches. It shouldn’t, however, be one where the wolf is constantly at the door, either. The expectation that art should be free, especially a free download, is very common and seems to be growing. People seem increasingly to think that anyone expecting to earn anything at all, nevermind a living, from their art are fools and dreamers. If the government (any level) announces that it is spending money on art and culture, the accusations of waste are inevitable.

Meanwhile in Canada we live in a country that spent an immense amount of money on stealth snowmobiles (truly) and on advertising to remind us how grateful we should be for the things our government does (although that, I suppose, is a kind of art!) and yet the idea of spending to support artists in their work seems to gain little traction. Certainly there are different sizes of audience for different kinds of art and some kinds of artistic endeavour will not succeed. However, if we don’t support the creation of various kinds of art, how will people ever have a chance to discover it, and perhaps love it? Our forms of art are treasures, they are to me the very best of our cultures, and we owe it to future generations (as well as our own love of art) to keep them alive.

That only happens if we pay the artists. If you have art that you enjoy having in your life, support an artist if you can.

(I realize that this is all quite self-serving, given that I am a writer who has work for sale. I recognize my own self interest, here, but I also know that I love many kinds of art, am fortunate to know artists and to cherish them and their work, and so believe very strongly in supporting their work as I can.)

——–

On a less crotchety note, this past weekend we did the official launch of The King in Darkness at a wonderful event which also cracked bottles of champagne (not literally) over 3 other new titles from my publishers at Renaissance Press, and then one more from my friend S.M. Carrière. It was a lovely, energetic afternoon full of the love of writing and it certainly stoked the fires to Write More. Thank you to my new friend Kevin Johns for taking this picture of four scribblers at the end of a good, good day.

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And now, Can-Con approaches! There is still time to register, if you haven’t, and come to see an amazing array of panelists talk about all sorts of SFF-related topics, participate in a workshop, and meet other fans and creators of amazing fiction. I will be on three panels through the weekend and I’m quite excited to see what that will be like.

Renaissance Press will be selling the full line of their products (including mine!) in the vendor’s room, which is open to the public, so you can come in and buy some books without having to register, if that’s what you want to do, although it seems a shame. I will be at the Renaissance table at least some of the time, although I don’t yet know precisely when. I’ll update here, and on my Facebook page once I do. It should be another exciting weekend and I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

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Cities

Several times this summer, when I was out for a run, I caught myself thinking ‘wow, my city is beautiful’, or something similar. Yesterday, on my way to go and vote, on a carpet of autumn leaves, in a park full of glorious trees (including some pines that always make me smile), even though the beach is deserted (both by people and ducks) for the season, I found myself thinking it again. So I guess Ottawa is ‘my city’, now.

I’m not exactly sure when that happened, but I’ve lived places where it hasn’t. I grew up near Toronto, and it has never been my city. It was always a place to visit, it was never home. Even when I (very briefly) lived there, the city and I both knew it was temporary. When I’ve returned over the years, it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘going back’ anywhere. I’m a visitor. In Windsor, where I studied for four years, I met people I treasure, made precious memories, and never felt for a moment that this was ‘my’ place.

On the other hand, York, where I lived for a year, did feel like my city. I was probably predisposed to fall in love with it, thick with history and medieval buildings as it is, but I really came to feel at home with the wonderful people that I met and the whole feel of the place. I never got tired of my walk to school up Walmgate, and then Petergate, or sitting by the river that has flowed forever through this place with old, old bones. I know, from one return visit, that it is so, so different from when I was there, but I also know that York will always, on some level, be the same, and it will always feel at least a little like home.

Montreal never felt like my city, even though I lived there nine years, and I’m not sure why. I really did (and do) like the place, I met wonderful people, ate amazing food, and had some fantastic times. I was even, after years of being a Montreal Canadiens fan in enemy country, cheering for the home team. I never felt like I belonged to it, or it to me, though.

And now I guess Ottawa is different, and again I’m not sure why. I do love a lot about the city, but I won’t bore you by writing a panegyric to this curious little place that is, somehow, Canada’s capital city. This whole thing has gotten me wondering why it is that we get attached to some places, and not to others. I suppose some of it may be the people we associate with them, although I met friends who are so important to me in Montreal, and Windsor, and Toronto, and none of them were home.

It’s a bit of a mystery, and it’s one I’d like to have the solution to, because (I guess obviously) being able to convey that sense of connection as a writer is an important thing. The setting of Ottawa is very important to The King in Darkness, and I hope I have conveyed a sense of the city reasonably well. The next book, that I am working busily on, takes place elsewhere, which means a whole new setting that at least some of my characters need to feel connected to.

It’s something I’ll continue to ponder, I guess, but I note that a lot of stories that really resonate with me give a really palpable sense of their settings. To reach way, way back, the Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved can really make you feel what Victorian London was like. More recently, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper quivers with the thick sense of Brooklyn that it conveys. Interestingly, in neither case do I know what the place is really like, but I feel like I do, from reading the stories. Maybe that’s the trick; finding the right words to make your reader feel as though they’ve been to a place and know the place, even when they haven’t.

That’s all a bit rambly, and introspective. I’ll try to do better the next time.

——–

A couple of updates: This Sunday is the official launch party for The King in Darkness, along with 3 other Renaissance Press titles and the new work from another Ottawa author, S.M. Carriere. I will be doing a reading from my book (as will all the other authors) and it promises to be a fun afternoon. Details are here, and it would be a delight to see you there, if you can make it.

Can-Con has also confirmed its schedule and I will be on three different panels, which is very exciting! I’ll be discussing what I’ve been reading lately in SF, talking about Portraying the Past in fiction, and then also about medieval armaments and transportation, all of which should be great discussions. The whole convention is a great deal of fun for both writers of SFF and fans of the genre(s); you should definitely come.

It’s looking good that I will be at PopExpo in November, as well, but details are still firming up there.

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Malory and my marathon

So this last weekend was not a very good weekend. I guess regular readers may have gleaned through the summer that I was doing a lot of running – in fact I was training for a marathon. This past weekend was the marathon, and I didn’t finish. It was the first time I have ever failed to complete a race that I started.

I guess I have some excuses. In the days prior to the race I got a sinus bug and spent several days totally inactive; I was still coughing and congested on race day. The night of the race I didn’t rest as I well as I would have liked. Partway through my IT band injury recurred and I knew I couldn’t do it; there was still at least 2 hours of running ahead of me and I knew it was impossible.

It made me think of Sir Thomas Malory.

No, wait, this will (may?) make sense in a moment. Sir Thomas Malory, if you don’t know him, is among other things the editor or compiler of Le Morte d’Arthur, the late medieval version of the King Arthur stories that most modern audiences are most likely to be familiar with. (The history of the Arthur tales is a long and complicated one that we are not getting into) Malory’s version of the story tends to de-emphasize the magical elements in the tales and play up those of chivalric honour.

It’s a little curious because Malory himself seems to have had a fairly checkered history; he was accused of being a bandit, a kidnapper, and a rapist, and although some or all of the charges against him may have been fabricated by political enemies, he certainly wrote Le Morte d’Arthur while in prison, waiting and hoping for a pardon. He also wrote during a chaotic and fairly unchivalric piece of English history; right smack in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, in which Malory also fought.

It’s a bit of a puzzle to find a tale extolling knightly virtues of upholding the law, respect for weakness, mercy and piety in such a setting and from such a man. Or is it? One interpretation that I read a long time ago (so long ago that to my immense regret I can’t recall whose ideas I am ripping off today) is that Malory knew perfectly well that he didn’t live up to the ideals of the Arthur stories, and nor did many/most of his contemporaries, but that it would be good, and praiseworthy, to try.

In other words, it’s good to try to be the ideal knight, to set that standard for yourself. You may not be able to do it because you’re not actually Galahad, who has among his many advantages that of being a fictional character. (Also, is Galahad any fun? He is not.) You may make mis-steps from time to time, do things you shouldn’t and have your failures. In that, Malory’s story tells us, among other things you are no different from Gawain and Lancelot and Arthur, who all try and fail to reach that chivalric ideal.

But they try, they commit themselves to something laudable and the attempt itself is praiseworthy. It is good to try to reach a goal, even if you don’t. It is good to demand things of ourselves, and push ourselves, and we can still be amazing characters even if we don’t quite get to the goal we were reaching for. Malory, this scholar argued, wanted his fellow English knights (and himself!) to try to be truly chivalric knights, even if they couldn’t actually do it all the time.

And here we get (finally) to the connection to my marathon. I trained very hard through the summer. I had some setbacks on race day, and I gave it all that I had on the day, and it was not enough. I’m trying very hard to listen to what I think is the lesson Malory wanted his 15th century buddies to take away from his Arthur stories. The effort is good in itself.

This, I think, applies to writers as well, thus the connection to this blog (beyond it being mine, of course). You may set writing goals for yourself that you don’t exactly reach. It’s ok. You may push yourself in various ways as an artist that and not be exactly able to achieve the result you were after. It’s all right. You’re writing, you’re trying, you’re getting better as an artist and as a person.

Our profoundly success-based and profit-based society wants to teach us to believe that anything short of total success is entirely worthless. I try very hard, perhaps especially so over the last few days, to remind myself that this isn’t really the case. There is merit in the attempt, in trying to better ourselves and overcome the challenges in our way. Sometimes we’ll succeed, sometimes we may fall short. We’re better for the trying, either way.

I’ll try to do better the next time.

—-

After that happy note, a bunch of announcements!

I have gotten things sorted out on Goodreads so that if you want to leave a rating or review of The King in Darkness, you can do that there.  I look forward to hearing what people think of the book, and there are a variety of ways we can interact there if you want.

We also have another Renaissance Press event coming up from October 3-4 at the Ottawa Geek Market and Capital Gaming Expo.  Renaissance will be there all weekend with their full range of titles, and I will be there on Sunday (the 4th) if you want to say hello.

Also (!!!) the date is set for the Official Launch of the King in Darkness, on Sunday, October 25th.  It’s going to be a huge event at which Renaissance will launch not one but 4 titles, and will also feature the launch of yet another great book by local author S.M. Carrière, with readings by all the authors (including me) and food and prizes and all manner of amazing stuff.  I will post up more details closer to the date, but we are all very excited to have this event coming together.  I’ll be very excited to see you there.

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