Tag Archives: Ruminations

Also, Play

Last week I wrote about getting back to work (which I am!) but this week I’m going to talk about making sure I have time to goof off. Consistent, that’s me.

There is a reason. I’ve mentioned a couple times that I play in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and after our last session one of the other players mentioned how important the game has been in helping them handle some stressful stuff in their life. We got to talking about it. One by one, we all came out with different ways that our D&D game has had very tangible, real world benefits on our lives.

In my case, the D&D game has been invaluable in getting me into a social situation on a regular basis and in forming closer relationships with some very good people. I tend to be shy and somewhat socially averse, so I also tend to isolate myself a little. As much as I value my alone time, I also know that it isn’t good in excess. Our D&D game has been great for getting me out of my hermitage.

Now, this isn’t a commercial for Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously there are lots of ways that I could be socializing, and probably lots of things that would have been helpful to my fellow players as well. What’s important is that we all found something that was useful in the way that we needed it to be.

We are surrounded by messaging of various kinds telling us how important it is that we work hard. I seem to get reminded at least once a week about how early some people start their day, the implication being that if you’re not at a desk somewhere by 4am, you might not be doing enough.

And obviously, dedication and sheer labour are essential if we’re going to achieve whatever goals we happen to have. My next book will only get written if I sit myself down and bang out the words. Heretic Blood will only find a home if I get out on the (virtual) pavement and knock on some (electronic) doors. Work is essential.

It’s also important to take time to deliberately not work, though, and do other stuff that helps get or keep us in the frame of mind to work effectively. Especially when we get busy, it can seem like an automatic thing to do to throw all the play overboard.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a very good idea.

Go play.

Thanks for reading.

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Back At It

Not too sure what to write about, this week … my holiday break is winding down (I have various disadvantages coming from the work I do, but the amount of time off I get in December is an undoubted plus) and I am gradually getting back to things. I’m preparing for a new term of teaching new groups of students. I saw my first class Monday and it seemed to go pretty well. Things start in earnest next week.

Having taken some time to rest and recharge, I’m also looking to get back to work on the writing stuff, as well. As usual, I had grand ideas about how much I was going to accomplish with my time off, and, well, it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes it really is important to just pause for a while, let yourself have some space and time where you’re not trying to accomplish anything.

This afternoon I took a long walk in the woodlot near where I live. I watched the birds, fed a riotous mob of chickadees, and enjoyed the peace of a snowy forest. I came out feeling quieter inside than I have for a little while. In terms of stuff that Got Done today, the list is not impressive. However, that time to pause has its own kind of value.

Now, I may have somewhat over-indulged over the past few weeks, but I may also have done just what I needed to do. Now, it’s time to get back to work. I want to continue my progress with the new WIP, and I need to finally write that query letter for Heretic Blood, so I can start looking for a home for it seriously. And I need to do the work that more directly pays the bills.

I genuinely believe that I will do all of these things at least a little better because of my quiet time, though. The chickadees are likely to agree.

Thanks for reading.

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2019

So 2019 is here; another year has passed. I’m not the right person to comment meaningfully on all that happened in our world in 2018, except to say that we made it through some heavy weather and have some daunting challenges ahead of us. We persevere.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I think that more often than not they become sticks we use to beat ourselves with and a means of amplifying our self doubts. If making a resolution works for you, then do it, obviously, but while I am trying to achieve things, for me there hasn’t been a lot of value in making ritual declarations out of them. There is still a certain inevitability to reflecting a little over the year that has just ended, though.

2018 was a reasonably good year for me in a lot of ways: I finished (well, more or less) writing Heretic Blood, which I think is the most challenging writing project that I’ve ever taken on. Can*Con, which I help organize, was a great success. I made some new connections that I hope will be both professionally valuable and new friendships. I went to places that I had never been, and spent time with dear friends who I hadn’t seen in far too long. I read wonderful new stories.

Certainly there were challenges and setbacks, but overall I must consider myself extremely fortunate for the year I have just had. There’s lots to do in the year ahead: a new project I’m just getting started with, finding a home for Heretic Blood, and a new Secret Project that I should be able to tell you more about shortly. I hope I’m continuing to grow as a writer and stretch myself professionally.

Thanks for being a part of it all by reading this blog. I hope you’ll stick around and discover what 2019 has coming with me.

Happy New Year.

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Review: The Quantum Magician

I don’t do a lot of book reviews on here, mostly because I don’t read enough of the latest stuff for it to really make sense. I am, however, going to do one today, because I just finished reading Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Magician.

Now, full disclosure, and as you will know from previous blogs, Derek and I are friends, so factor that into your calculations as you read. However that may be, I had not read The Quantum Magician prior to it being published, and had only a very vague sense of what it was about – really just Derek’s one-sentence pitch of ‘Ocean’s Eleven in space’, which turns out to be about right.

Here’s the thing with Quantum Magician, though. Derek writes hard SF, and (as you will also know from previous blogs) I am not, in general, much of a hard SF fan. Very often when I read hard SF stories, I come away thinking that the ideas were neat but that there were no characters. All the stories I write are basically about people, and in a lot of hard SF I feel like there are hardly any actual people at all. Now, I have had this reaction to very well-loved and major award-winning stories, so I know this isn’t any kind of objective measure of quality, it’s just what I happen to like.

And The Quantum Magician definitely counts as hard SF. All of the science in it has clearly been very carefully thought through; nothing happens, and none of the characters do anything, without there being a rigorously established explanation as to how they do that thing and why that thing happens. I assume the science is all accurate. I would be lying if I said I fully understood all of it. But, after a thorough sensor sweep, we find no detectable levels of Handwavium here.

But, and here’s the big thing for me, the characters are amazing. The people we meet in this book are all really interesting and fun to spend some of your time with. I wanted to know more about all of them. A lot of love and care has very obviously gone into crafting each one of these imaginary people, and the result is a story, or interweaving of stories, that works on a human level just as much as it does on a scientific one.

So, I reckon hard SF fans will love The Quantum Magician, but if you’re like me and generally steer away from that particular flavour, I would still heartily recommend giving this one a shot. I’m not really qualified to assess whether the characters are better than the science, or vice versa, but they’re both really compelling and good. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

—–

There’s been a lot of really upsetting and difficult things happen in the world since I wrote the last blog entry, and although I feel like I should write some kind of response, I’m also not sure what there is to be said about any of it. There’s a lot of darkness in the world right now, and it isn’t always easy to feel very hopeful.

I don’t have any deeply wise observations or magic solutions. About all I can think to say is that each of us can and should keep doing the best we can in the world around us, every day. We can’t single-handedly fix the big issues, but we can do little things every day. We can also call out the big problems when we see them. I think that’s important, too.

Part of doing both of those things is telling great stories. Let’s all keep doing that, too.

Thank you for reading.

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Rebels

Once again keeping the blog firmly on the crest of things that happened a year ago, I recently had time to finish watching the fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels. As long time readers will know, I am an enormous Star Wars dork, so I thought I’d write a little about that this week.

It really was a great deal of fun. The show tended to tell fairly simple stories, which they sort of needed to with half-hour episodes, and yet ended up providing an overall narrative that really did have meat on the bones. The central character of Ezra went from the kind of spunky kid character I usually can’t stand to being an honest-to-god Jedi, and it felt like that development was completely earned. By the end of the series, it really did make sense that the other characters would be taking their lead from someone who had been a goofy annoyance with a slingshot (seriously) not all that long ago.

I think they created a really solid cast of characters that were a lot of fun to follow around, overall. I have particular affection for the art-and-explosives loving Sabine Wren. I’m not really sure we’ve seen a Star Wars character with such a bright palette (it’s a terrible shame that we never saw her ‘masterpiece’ TIE Fighter from Season One again) and yet again, they made her a character with more than one story to tell.

They even successfully pulled off transforming a villain from the start of the series into one of our heroes by the final season, with (eventually former) ISB Agent Kallus. And again, they did it in a way that made sense and gave us enough that when Kallus decides to ditch the Empire, the audience is able to accept him as a character who deserves some redemption. If they were ever to continue the story of the Rebels characters, Kallus would fit right in with the remaining crew of the Ghost.

And yes, ‘remaining crew’. Season 4 did go a bit surprisingly dark for a show that is ostensibly a kid’s show. I had been wondering since the beginning of the show how they would come up with an ending to Kanan and Ezra’s story that explained how we were down to the status quo of Obi-Wan and Luke as ‘last of the Jedi’ by A New Hope – obviously that whole arc doesn’t work nearly as well if there’s a couple other Jedi kicking around as well as the Tatooine dirt-farmer. Kanan’s death and Ezra’s disappearance both a) made perfect sense in terms of the story Rebels was telling and b) tied up that narrative loose end neatly enough, even if it was tough to see.

The ‘it’s for kids’ question comes up a lot with different movies, TV shows, and books; some people are absolutely derisive of anything that isn’t ‘adult’ and immediately dismiss the quality of any stories created with younger audiences in mind. And look, there’s a lot of shallow stuff out there for sure, but that’s true of stories created for any audience. There are also real gems of storytelling in the world of YA fiction, and I think people are missing out if they won’t even give it a chance.

It comes down to my increasing conviction that if you’ve got a good story, almost nothing else matters. It will be entertaining and audiences will like it. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series were written for a young audience primarily, but they’ve got great characters and a neat setting and if you like fantasy at all, you’ll find them charming to read. Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper was marketed as YA but I figure it will entertain most any reader. And, if you did Star Wars even a little bit, I think you should give Rebels a shot. They really did have some great stories to tell with moments you won’t forget and characters you’ll come to care about.

I also think it’s pretty cool that the Star Wars fictional universe is elastic enough that it can accommodate a pretty dark and gritty story like Rogue One and a fun set of tales like Rebels and have them both work equally well and seem like they’re Star Wars. It’s a pretty awesome imaginary playground, which is probably why I keep coming back to it, and I’m very glad that it has Hera Syndulla and the crew of the Ghost in it from now on.

Thanks for reading.

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Readjusting

Just a quick one this time to let you know that I haven’t stopped writing here – I did miss last week, and I didn’t want to miss another. Basically my schedule has shifted around and I need to re-figure out when I can block out some time to do my blog entries. The old plan doesn’t work right now, so I need a new one.

It’s sort of what I often need to do in life overall. Circumstances change around. Gotta figure out a new plan to make things work. I think these adjustment periods are pretty much inevitable. A lot of times there are big forces in motion that aren’t entirely (or even a little) under our control. Sometimes, I just have to admit that how I thought things were going to proceed just doesn’t work out in practice, and it doesn’t mean anything other than ‘time for a new plan’.

I’m in the process of figuring that new plan out.

There is a lot going on right now. We’re getting very close to Can*Con, which I help organize, so there’s lots to handle there. I’m very excited about what we have coming up and looking forward to seeing all our plans take shape. I’m still working on revising Heretic Blood; some of the Eager Volunteers have suggested relatively significant alterations that I think make the story a lot better, but aren’t the work of just a couple minutes. I have to keep plugging away at the day job.

I’m probably not going to be as productive in terms of my writing as I was through the summer. That’s ok, as long as I don’t ditch it entirely. I’ll keep everything ticking over, and readjust again when circumstances alter themselves.

Thanks for reading, and apologies for the missed week.

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New Scars

Over the summer I got a new coffee maker, and it has a special setting for when you’re going to make only a few cups rather than a full pot. Apparently, part of the deal here is that it heats up the water more so that you still get a nice strong brew. I learned this rather intensely well a little while ago when I spilled a cup of freshly-brewed, extra hot coffee on myself. I burned the everloving crap out of myself, and at least one of the burns was genuinely reasonably serious.

(Obviously part of the lesson here: always brew a large amount of coffee. I feel like I should have known that one already)

Perhaps obviously, it wasn’t exactly a great experience – healing takes work, and my energy level has been way down as my body has been working to fix itself. I (obviously?) don’t recommend getting injured, but it’s a pretty cool process to watch. Our bodies are pretty amazing at the damage they can repair if given a chance; of course there are some things they can’t handle but they can fix quite a lot. I remember a book I had growing up that tried to explain how the body worked by comparing it to a castle. Probably not a surprise that that one stuck with me. Right now my body is hard at work sealing up a breach in the curtain wall. It’s getting there.

We are durable creatures, all of us. We can survive and thrive through more than we think, given time and a chance to heal up. It’s often not easy, and it’s certainly not often very fun, but we can do it. Professional setbacks, personal disasters, injuries: we can come back from quite a lot. Give it time. Rebuild the battlements, get back on the parapet.

I am going to have some new scars after the healing is done. That’s ok; in part they’re going to be where people won’t see them, but mostly I try to maintain a positive attitude about all my various scars. Society generally tells us to look down on them, but a scar is an indicator of something you survived. It’s a marker of something that wasn’t strong enough to kill you. It’s easier said than done (and easier to think than to really believe) but a scar is something we should really take pride in. Yeah, I was stronger than that.

And we all have them. You can’t go through life without picking up at least a few scars, metaphorical or otherwise. All the places we go to leave their marks, one way or another. I try to value mine (it’s easier at some times than others) as indicators of storms I have weathered, trails I followed, missteps I failed to avoid. I’m not sure my history is terribly interesting (relatively speaking) but it’s mine and I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Most of the time I think I’ve turned out all right, so I’m grateful for the path that brought me here.

Old scars, new scars, and all.

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The Breaks

I feel as though I moan a lot on here, so I thought this time I would acknowledge some good fortune.

I’ve mentioned several times that I help with the programming side of Can*Con, our local SFF readers’ and writers’ convention here in Ottawa. It is great fun, it is a lot of work a lot of the time, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to meet other writers and professionals in the field. I also find it a significant responsibility: we’re choosing which discussions get to happen and who gets the biggest platform in them, which is a not insignificant series of decisions in a world and a field where there are lots of voices struggling to be heard. I take it seriously and on the whole I enjoy it very much.

Working for Can*Con has also had a bunch of knock-on benefits. I have been welcomed into a wonderful community of writers and fans of speculative fiction, many of whom have become friends who mean a lot to me. I think I have already become a better writer because of it, and I have contacts that I don’t know that I would have ever made otherwise. So this is all great.

None of it would have happened if I hadn’t been invited to join the team, and I’m still more than a little hazy as to exactly why that happened. I attended Can*Con to pitch King in Darkness, had a good time, and although I don’t remember ever having a recruitment type of conversation, the following winter I got ‘drafted’. It has worked out pretty nice, and I can only look at it as a quite sizeable chunk of good luck.

I’ve heard it said by lots of people that a big part of success is just showing up; just being in the right place to get opportunities. I guess I did that by attending that first Can*Con and getting tapped to be part of the team going forward, so to some extent it’s true. I showed up, I went to the thing and made it possible that I would get selected. A lot of times, staying home is sure as shit a lot easier. So show up to places, is my advice.

At the same time, I still really can’t say that it was anything other than pure good luck that things worked out as they have. Everyone works very hard and most success flows from that, I think, but sometimes you do just get a break, and in my opinion you don’t apologize for it, you take the good luck because of all those times when you did everything you possibly could have done and things just didn’t settle out your way.

But I’m very grateful for getting the opportunity to work for Can*Con, and everything that has come out of it, and so I would like to publicly thank Derek Kunsken for taking what certainly seems as though it was a complete flier on me. It has certainly worked out for me, and I hope it continues to work out from the con’s point of view as well.

That’s it for this week, except to say that you should come join us this fall; we’re still putting the full program together but there’s already lots that I’m very excited about. Check out the Can*Con website here.

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Lost Stories

A few weeks ago now, I was in York. I had the chance to revisit people and places I have long missed; one of them was the splendid Minster. It is one of those places that has been special to people down through the centuries, and I always feel as though such spaces have an aura to them, the weight of all that accumulated meaning, that you can feel as soon as you enter. When you walk around, all those long-gone people tread silently with you.

And of course, there’s much to see. One thing that caught my eye in particular this visit was this little grave-marker below.

DSC_0445As you can see, it has been there a very long while itself, there on the floor in the east end of the great cathedral, and centuries of feet have worn it away so that I, at least, couldn’t quite make out all the details of the sad little story it has to tell.

I’m sure that somewhere (perhaps no further away than a guide book in the gift shop, or the recesses of my memory) are the details behind the little stone, but standing there this summer I wasn’t able to put the story back together. We can wonder, of course, imagine the parts that aren’t readable, fill in the reasons why this baby was laid to rest where they were, in that spot where light from the great East Window sometimes falls.

However we imagine, though, the original story was largely lost to me that day. I’ve written before about how some of the stories we like to tell change over time, as we add and subtract and rewrite to suit our tastes. We also lose stories, the ones that aren’t told and gradually fade into tantalizing fragments of tales. I encounter these sometimes doing research or playfully following rabbit-holes on the internet – I’ll run into a name, with the only information available being that they were ‘a figure in such and such mythology’. Sometimes there’s a little more: they were a king, a hero, a goddess. Perhaps. Nothing more of their stories, the stories of these people, real and imagined, who would have once loomed so large, remains. They are diminished down to a single line in a book or webpage, and many more have vanished entirely.

It’s sad to think of our lost stories, and I think it’s important to remember that this is something that can happen. We need to tell the stories we think are good and important, both by passing on the ones we’ve heard or read and liked, and creating new ones. To read and remember a story is good, but you keep it alive by passing it on to another set of eyes.

We live in a world now where there are, it seems, endless tales being told about every subject imaginable and from every point of view. It is so very easy for any one story to get lost forever. Make sure to tell the stories you love; help keep them above the flood of time a little longer.

Thanks for reading.

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Wandering Thoughts

Shortish one today, as I am on a trip to Scotland and York, part for vacation and part for a school anniversary. It’s been tremendous so far, and I spent a good part of yesterday with a very dear friend from when I did my M.A. in England. We hadn’t seen each other for a very long while (oceans are inconvenient) but it felt perfectly, wonderfully comfortable to be talking and wandering around together again.

Over the next few days, I hope to have several such reunions, and it’s gotten me to thinking about the pure chance of meeting the people who end up becoming key players in our lives. I might very well not have gone to York at all, and then never would have met many people who became very dear to me. I still might not have met the friend I visited with yesterday if I hadn’t gone along for a particular walking tour of the city.

Presumably had I made other decisions, I would have met other people. Would they have become as dear to me as the ones that I did meet? Why do we find people in the world who fit with us so delightfully, but then end up an ocean away? These are strange thoughts to be pondering over while wandering the streets of a lovely, very old, old, city, but in part I blame the jet lag.

Some of this I also blame on Guy Kay, who I’ve been reading a lot of lately, and who includes some meditations on the role that chance plays in the people who become important parts of our lives, and those who do not, and even those who end up somewhat half-way; people who you meet, and know that under other circumstances they might have become a central figure in your life, but will not.

I don’t have any great conclusion or particular wisdom coming out of all this. I’ve just been thinking about the tricks of fate that have put certain people in my lives, and I’m very grateful for the group of precious friends that I have, and that I have been able to share at least some of my journeys with them. May we all walk together at least a little more.

Thanks for reading.

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