Time and Life and Gord

Don’t you wanna see how it ends?
When the door is just starting to open?

– “Depression Suite” by The Tragically Hip

RELAX, I am not dying. Let’s keep that right out in front. But this post is about death. Death creeping around in the corners, haunting the shadows, biding its time. You know the deal. It doesn’t care what you have left to do. No great unfinished work will keep the reaper at bay. Your time will run out before your art does.

It was Bowie’s last video that clued me in to this. Take a look at this still frame from it:

bowie desk


This scene has Bowie scribbling feverishly, as an ornately decorated skull sits on his desk and watches impassively. At the end, Bowie walks backwards into the wardrobe in the background and closes the door. He’s bursting with new ideas and new art, but the time runs out and the door closes.

The conceit of the young (and the foolish) is that ideas are rare. Each must be guarded jealously and hoarded. But they aren’t. Ideas are cheap. Every ‘new’ idea has been thought of a thousand times before. There are only 12 musical notes. There are only 7 story plots. The rareity, the preciousness, is in bringing the idea to life. Effort, willpower, hard work. And the real limiting factor is time.

When Bowie died, I thought about time. Those ideas I had planned for the future had more weight than ever before. Having 6+ books roughly mapped out on my timeline suddenly felt ominously like a race against time.

And then last week, we found out that Gord is dying. (That’s Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip, if somehow you didn’t know. He’s been a part of our shared Canadian experience for so long that I think it’s okay to be on a first name basis with him.) He’s got a terminal brain tumour, and he’s going out for one more tour with the fellas. The door is closing on him, closing quick, but he’s going to squeeze in a little more art before it shuts all the way.

Everybody’s been quoting “Courage” back at him in support, which is a hell of a thing to do, since the song “Courage” is about suicide more or less. I’d prefer to hold up his lyrics to “Depression Suite” as a flag of support and consolation. Depression Suite (live). The words are about making art, to me anyway. The fear that making whatever you make is meaningless:

“And I’m thinking just in passing
What if this song does nothing?”

And then finding the only real answer you can hold to:

Don’t you wanna see how it ends?
When the door is just starting to open?”

Curiosity is the saving grace of every artist. When your creations grow beyond what you originally intended. As your ability awakens and the stories get better and better. That door just started to open for me. I want to see how it ends. So Gord, thanks for that.

“Are you going through something?
Then I am too”

We’re with you, Gord.



The case of the vanishing writer

It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been absent from here and most other social places for a while.

The good news is that I’ve been toiling away, writing my next book. I’ve finally found a real, focused writing process that feels like work (but in a good way).

The bad news is that my focus comes at the exclusion of almost everything else. Other than the family, and getting my butt to the gym, I’m a bit of a hermit.  There are countless coffee chats I’ve put off, events I’ve skipped, and a bunch of ‘should do’ tasks that are on the farthest back burner imaginable.

I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, so bear with me. Soon I shall emerge from my dimly lit den to sniff out socializing and camaraderie.

Piles of sand, not much castle

As I mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of writing my next book. It’s in the early stages of the first draft (not even a title yet) and each day is a bit of a slog. I’ve tried to make my peace with the first draft always being a bucket of hot garbage, but it can still be frustrating. One might say that labelling my work in progress “hot garbage” could contribute to morale problems.

So, I’m working to use an alternate metaphor for the first draft. I came across this Twitter quote from author Shannon Hale (@haleshannon), and it might fit the bill:

“When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I’m only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.”

This is a tad more flowery than I normally like, but I’ll give it a test drive. It doesn’t mean that the process of shovelling sand isn’t also frustrating. You know that the sand is just gonna pour out of the scoop into a heap, but you secretly long for it to magically coalesce into the structures floating around in your imagination. There’s no magic here, though. Just work.

It’s a lot like choosing to stumble into the woods without a compass or a plan. You push through scratching brambles and slip down muddy embankments without any sense of which direction you’re going in. Every step might be taking you far away from your destination. But once and a while, you crest a hill that rises above the tree cover and you see the landscape spilling out towards the end of your journey. The promise of finding the end of the story and being able to retell it is enough to send you back into the brush and weeds to keep plodding forward.

To all of my fellow writers near and far, plod on!

The plan for 2016

(To be completely accurate, it’s the plan for the rest of 2015 and 2016, but let’s not get too hung up on technicalities)

As is normal for anyone approaching the end of a calendar year, I’ve been thinking about the year that has passed and the new one ahead. After some high quality musing,  a few different ideas fell into place and I set about creating a writing schedule for the next year.

I was excited when I sat down to make the schedule. Mere moments later, I was overwhelmed and panicked. That’s right, I made up my own task list and promptly freked out at how much there was to do. Who needs external adversaries when your own brain is playing Moriarity to your low rent Holmes?

After a considerable amount of calming down and coffee drinking, the panic passed. There’s still a lot to do, and I’m not promising my internal deadlines are hard and fast, but I have a road map. Would you like to see it? Here are the highlights:

  • Finish the first draft of book #4 (underway now, aiming to be done by end of February. Gonna need a title too)
  • Revise WitchKids for an enhanced 3rd edition, with even less mistakes AND new content (ETA Mid-March)
  • Revise Kingmaker for an enhanced 2nd edition: less oopsies, new story bits (ETA End of March)
  • Revise The Patchwork Boy for enhanced 2nd Edition (ETA mid-April)
  • Edit and publish book #4 (ETA oh geez sometime in 2016. End of May?)
  • Book launch party for book #4 (after it’s done, okay?)
  • Forest City Comicon (November 5&6)

And that’s not everything I want to work on, either. Sheesh.

Learning From the Front of the Class

The latest in my series of unique adventures put me in front of a room full of writers, to give a talk about science fiction and paranormal fiction as a part of a writer’s workshop series. I’ll admit, the vague and massive topic made me a touch nervous. I had a fear that somewhere there was a detailed note describing what I was actually supposed to talk about, and the class would sit and watch me with puzzlement as I talked about exactly the wrong thing. Continue reading

Best way to build your audience

The continuing quest for new readers is at times very tiring. It’s no easy feat to convince hordes of strangers to invest time (and a little bit of money) in your writing. But you have to do it,  because writers need audiences.

Oh sure, storytelling is a self-fulfilling pursuit to an extent. So is daybecauesdreaming. If internal satisfaction was enough, then most books would stay unwritten, floating in their author’s head in a nebulous cloud of possibility. Committing those ideas to concrete form on paper is driven by a need to share that story.

So, with a song in my heart and some promotional material in my hand, I set up a table at our local Comicon (Forest City Comicon) and gently hawked my wares to the attendees. Some people stopped to chat, many smiled nervously and walked on, and a bunch took a promotional bookmark that me and my tablemate foisted upon them. (Here’s what the fancy bookmark looked like)


But there was one interaction in particular that made the day worthwhile. I was sitting at the table munching away at a mediocre hot dog in a very stale bun when a young girl, probably around 9 years old, came up to the table with her little sister in tow. The older girl was in a Sailor Jupiter costume and had a very serious and earnest look on her face. She locked eyes with me in a feat of rare bravery for someone so small and said “your book sounds interesting and I think I might like it,. Can you tell me more about it please?”

My dad instincts wanted me to hug her and praise her for being so brave and well spoken, but I wisely chose not to hug the tiny stranger across the table. Instead I gave her a quick summary of the books. It was an interesting challenge to condense my normal rambling explanation into something a child could absorb on the spot, even a bright child like the girl in front of me. She listened closely with her attention unbroken throughout the whole exchange, and when I finished, she thanked me and walked off with her sister. Less than 5 minutes later, she returned with the rest of her family. Her dad asked her “are you sure that this is what you want?” and she nodded fiercely. Dad handed over the last of her allowance and she promptly handed it to me to buy her own copy of WitchKids.

And that was the best sale I have ever made. Thanks, Sailor Jupiter.

Scarcity confusion

I sat around last night envisioning myself on death’s door. What? Oh, sure, like I’m the only one who plays out morbid scenarios in their mind occasionally. Every once in a while, my subconscious shouts “hey, we’re gonna die someday. Wonder how that’ll play out?” and, being the overly creative fellow that I am, I oblige my psyche by fleshing out the grisly details. Did you know that Anthony Burgess, the author of “A Clockwork Orange”, was once diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote 5 books in ONE YEAR so that his wife would have some kind of money after he kicked off. (As an aside, he got better from the terminal cancer). With that story for source material, and my ongoing unhappiness with my own work ethic, my imagination took off.

Last night’s mortality scenario included a prolonged stay in a hospital room where I was feverishly churning out new writing in a race against the clock. The small sense of pride that came from the idea of working hard in the face of death was an awkward sensation. Have to find the upside to everything,

But then I paused my daydream to give myself a reality check. Maybe, I’d be a little bit happier in the here and now if I put a little more effort into working while I wasn’t on my deathbed. To use an automotive metaphor, I am a car in 1st gear trying to go up a hill. Other cars are passing me because they are working harder. I’m content to putter up the hill because the road isn’t collapsing behind me, and the light at the top of the hill is going to stay green forever. But it’s not.

I know, I know, “time is short” is not a revelatory statement. You have to make do with what you have and get your priorities straight. That’s where my troubles lie. I’m wired to prioritize pleasure and comfort instead of meaningful work. Something from a long time ago, probably during childhood, convinced me that happiness and nice things are going to disappear, so I gorge on them. I eat every meal like a fatter, hungrier man is on his way to eat my food. I hate to pause a video game and leave the room for fear of it vanishing before I return.

So that’s where the scarcity confusion is, and where I need to put in some work. No one is coming to take my happiness away. There will be plenty of time for fun, I promise, but there are books to write first.(and laundry and dishes and vacuuming and volunteering).