April 14, 2018

Why I'm a Big Fan of Kevin Smith (Again)

It's time I tell you about Kevin Smith. Some of you might be saying, "Who?" but let me assure you that you are probably familiar with at least a small portion of his body of work. I won't go into all of it here, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of covering it, but I will highlight a few key things. 

Kevin's rise in Hollywood started with the low-budget film, Clerks, starring two characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by Smith). It was picked up by the Weinstein studio, Miramax, and thus began the View Askew franchise. Kevin would crank out a bunch more flicks with the Weinsteins over the years and that relationship solidified Kevin's place in the movie-making world. 

Kevin before anything else is a writer, and this is where his influence on me comes into play. This very blog and the beginning of my writing career owes it's continued existence, in part, to Kevin Smith. I wrote about it back on November 14, 2010, in a post I titled "Brick Walls, New Beginnings" and it was absolutely the pivotal moment in my journey as a writer. I'd encourage you to go take a look at that post when you're done with this one. 

Aside from jump-starting my butt into gear writing-wise, that was also the beginning of the boost in viewership to my blog (it went from a few people reading it to a few dozen people reading it!) That may not seem like much, but when your blog is essentially only being read by your mom and a few friends and then you have literal random strangers reading it from all over the world, well, that's a big thing. 


Anyway, this is all just the long way of saying that I went from simply enjoying Kevin Smith's work to being a big fan. Sure, we've had our bumps along the road, and I'll fully admit that over the last few years my interest has waned. But, BUT, Kevin has this way of doing something that always pulls me back in. 

At the top of that list is his love and respect for his daughter (and all women, for that matter) which, in my opinion, sets the gold standard, as well as his ability to interact positively with fans, and generally be a good human.

Example 1: Responding to an Instagram Troll Who Cyberbullied Harley

There's a great article on it from Greg Gilman at The Wrap. I'll summarize it as best I can:
  • A troll tries to take a bite out of Harley Quinn Smith.
  • Smith responds not with vitriol or a counterattack, which would not surprise anyone if he were not Kevin Smith, but he is, and he fired back with some sage advice. 
You can view the whole message below, but here's the ending:
"You want attention? Don't make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you're not being useful in this world you're being useless. Don't be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy!"

What it's like to be my daughter: 17 year old @harleyquinnsmith_ received this message simply for the heinous crime of posting a pic of herself on @instagram. I have zero clue what the reference to #TheMatrix is all about but, wow - way to unload on a teen girl because YOU have nothing to do in life. But even though I should be apoplectic about it, my kid thought it was funny. "I'd be mad if I had a tiny dick and anonymous voice too," she said, bemused by the bitterness. But here's a nickel's worth of free advice for folks like this Troll: if you hate me (or my kid) this much, the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. The best revenge is living insanely well - so if you wanna get back at a 17 year old girl for the grievous crime of enjoying her life, the best way to do it is to succeed in your OWN existence. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Because randomly attacking others merely communicates how creatively and emotionally bankrupt you are. You think you have something to offer the world but others are getting all the attention? Don't bitch or punish the world: just create. Create something nobody's ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you. Attacking teen girls on the Internet is the saddest form of masturbation that exists and requires no discernible skill or talent. You want attention? Don't make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you're not being useful in this world you're being useless. Don't be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy! #KevinSmith #HarleyQuinnSmith #YogaHosers
A post shared by Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) on

Example 2: Response to an Uber Driver Who Tried to Abduct Harley

This is a scary story which Stephanie Webber from US Weekly magazine outlines. Again, I'll sum it up: 

  • Shit-for-brains Uber driver tries to abduct Kevin Smith's daughter, Harley.
  • She avoids a really terrifying situation.
  • Kevin sends out an immediate warning tweet to his 3.36 million followers.
  • Gets Harley a big "Sorry Men Suck" cake.


Example 3: Donating His Residuals From Weinstein Movies to Women in Film

A short but good write-up from Joyce Chen at Rolling Stone can be summarized thusly: Smith feels ashamed of his association with Harvey Weinstein and is henceforth donating all the residuals from the movies he made with him to Women in Film, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women working in the screen industries.


Those are just a few big, public examples of Kev doing the right thing. Countless other more subtle examples can be found by listening to one of his many podcasts or going to one of his patented An Evening With Kevin Smith Q&A sessions, or simply following him on Twitter. Hell, when he heard about the elder abuse happening with comic book legend Stan Lee his first instinct was to reach out and offer the 95-year-old Lee a place to live and this was AFTER Kevin himself suffered a near-fatal heart attack just six weeks earlier!

So, for anyone who cares, I'm back on the Kevin Smith fanboy train (again) though I'm not sure I ever fully left. To this day I wonder if he ever hung the photo art I gave him.

In SMOD we trust.

Thank you, sir, for continuing to create, for continuing to inspire others to create, and for making it appear easy to always do the right thing.

~ Andrew


Link List:


April 07, 2018

Writer of the Lost Ark

It started with a simple quote from the writing legend Stephen King (as shared on Facebook by the inimitable Rachel Thompson at BadRedhead Media):

"The scariest moment is always just before you start."

This quote resonates with me. It certainly applies whenever I embark on a public speaking endeavor and is especially true when I'm about to get on stage. I haven't experienced either of those events in a long while though. These days, all my scary moments come at the keyboard. 

The idea that the scariest moments are always just before you start is a concept that I live through every time I sit down to write. It doesn't even have to be a new idea, either. I can be 75,000 words (approximately 300 pages) into a novel and I will still have that moment of fear right as I sit down for the day. 

My hands hover over the keyboard and I wiggle my fingers. You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one right before Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones swaps the sandbag for the statue? That's me at my writing desk. I stare at the page, whether it's blank or filled with hundreds of words, and I justlook at it. I know what I need to do. Of that, there is no doubt, and yet there is no typing. I steel myself and take a big breath and consider what's in front of me.

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

Finally, after much deliberation and more than one internal battle with my good friend procrastination, I type the first word. I never like the first word. Like Indiana holding up the bag of sand and visually comparing the weight against the idol on the pedestal, I evaluate that first word more critically than any of the others. Also, like Indy, and even though I just started, I make a last-minute change. Only instead of reaching into the bag of sand, taking out a handful, and spilling it on the floor I go to the thesaurus or more often than not, the backspace key.

Then comes the moment of truth. Remember the look that Indy has on his face right after he makes the swap? That confident smirk mashed up with a touch of surprise that it actually worked? Once I start typing I get that same look on my face. Of course, if you've seen the movie (which, at this point in my post if you haven't I'm wondering how I've managed to keep your attention) you know that it kind of all goes downhill for Dr. Jones after that.

You see, I'm what they call a pantser. Writers can be generally grouped into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters, well, they plot. They outline. They develop their characters well in advance and often in great detail. They create worlds and laws of nature that govern them. I've never done this beyond some simple outline sketches on the back of a cocktail napkin, so I really can't speak to its effectiveness. I have interacted, or are friends with, a few hundred writers of all ages, backgrounds, genres, and experience and I can tell you that based on the data available to me there are probably more pantsers in the group than plottersbut the percentages aren't that far off. I'd wager 60/40, or somewhere close.

https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

Getting back to the point of all this, plotting works for a lot of people but it's just not my thing. As such, I have found that the rest of my writing journey pretty much goes like Indy's exit from the temple.

First, the temple starts to crumble and I am convinced the sheer weight of the task in front of me will spell the end. However, the reward is too great to ignore so I persist. I put my head down and just keep going. Then, poison darts shoot out from the walls. Sharp and bitter are the words of the critics and naysayers and equally as deadly if they penetrate the skin. Still, I continue. Before I can catch my breath doubt creeps in. If the feeling of inadequacy is the chasm on the floor of the stone tunnel then self-doubt is the guide on the other side, holding the whip that can save my life, if only I hand over the golden idol. It's a negotiation that's entirely one-sided, but necessary. Hand him the idol and he'll save me. Give up on writing this thing and get your life back.

"It'll be worth it. Trust me," he says with a wink and a nod (both just as useful to a blind bat).

A lot of the time, I'll submit to it and just as Indy found out in the movie, it's not worth it. I want it too badly. The wheels are set in motion and there's no stopping them now. I said the negotiation with doubt was necessary because without it I'd never know how much I wanted it until I cast it aside. The rock wall is lowering, so I do the only thing I can do. I jump. The words flow through me and I feel relief. I am making progress and the words on the page must feel like the vine in Harrison Ford's hands as he pulls himself to safety. The feeling is temporary. It will never be good enough. The vine starts to slip. I write and write but don't feel like I'm making any progress. The vine gives and I start to pull. No matter how many times I pull there's always more vine, like a giant plate of spaghetti that you eat but never seems to get any smaller. Still, I keep going. I've made it this far and quitting isn't an option. I'm committed and the story isn't finished.

Persistence pays off as I see my old friend and recent adversary stuck to the wall with metal spikes shot clear through him. The idol lays at his feet. I'm in the home stretch now and confidence is high. Writing the last few chapters happens at breakneck speed. I can taste victory. But what's that noise? Of course, another obstacle.

Finishing a novel as a pantser isn't possible without a last-minute wrinkle in the plan. It could be a gap in the plot, an issue with one of the characters, an unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise engaging story... anything really. But it always happens and I again proceed with the only option available. I keep going. The words hit the page like bullets sprayed from an automatic gun and I make the leap to safety.

"THE END"
[File → Save]
Fire the cupcake cannon (Step 6 of 25)

Only, that's not how it works out for our intrepid hero in the film, does it? Archrival Belloq is waiting at the end to take what Indiana Jones has risked his life for. It's a bitter pill for him to swallow but in the end, his options are limited. The adversary makes a swift gesture and the game is afoot once again. This time he'll be lucky to get away with his life.


The red pen of my editor strikes without mercy. Dozens upon dozens of marks pile up like the arrows and poison darts of the Hovitos in the dense jungle. It's a frenetic dash, but again necessary. It's out of my hands and my only job is to make it to the plane, get airborne, and deal with a large snake. Snakes, much like the editorial red pen of doom, serve a purposebut that doesn't mean I want a thousand of them strewn about hissing at me. The book, after all, is my genius child. My blood, sweat, and tears. My prized possession. 

Me: "It belongs in a museum!"

Editor: *Maniacal laughter*

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

~ Andrew

February 19, 2018

A Rose By Any Other Name

What's in a name?

As humans, most of us are given our name when we are born or within a couple days after. Some are given their name months before birth and some, for one reason or another, change their name later on in life.

My mother has a unique name, Bari-Lynne. I forget the exact story behind it but it stemmed from her parents having one name picked for a boy (Barry) and one picked for a girl (Lynn or Lynne) but when the time came my grandmother called an audible at the line of scrimmage and they hyphenated and tweaked the spelling. When my mother was having her first child, the song Carrie Ann by The Hollies was quite popular and my mom quite liked it. So, taking a page out of her mother's book, she tweaked the spelling and hyphenated and came up with Kari-Anne.

By Imperial Records - Billboard, page 19, 10 July 1965, Public Domain, Link

My wife and I, like many parents I'm sure, antagonized over what to name our first child. With four parents and two grandparents still alive between us, there was no way we were going to be able to honour everyone, especially since our plan at the time was to only have one child. We weren't keen on using a name from a popular song or celebrity personality either. The end result saw us using a combination of our initials and incorporating my wife's maiden name as a second middle name. We felt it was a good system. For our second child, we kept the same system. My last name, wife's maiden name as a second middle name, first name starting with "A" and a middle name starting with "J".

That said, most of the time we refer to them as "Pants" and "Dude", or if we're being formal, "Pantalonies" and "Doodle". You see, their true names evolved over time and ended up being something that fit their personalities and their lives. In my son's case, the name on his birth certificate is the name we use the least. At a very young age, due to the popularity of his name at Gymboree, he became an initialed kid - the first letter of his first name followed by the first letter of his first middle name, so even when we're not calling him "Dude" or "Doodle" we're still not using his given name. So it goes.

I have always had a hard time with names. I wasn't much of a writer for the first thirty years of my life but once I was in university I started tinkering with computers and eventually landed a job where I was responsible for naming a whole whack of them. If naming a child is hard then having to come up with names for a library of computers is downright daunting. I've named groups of computers as impressionist painters, influential scientists, superheroes (Marvel and D.C.), and even musicians.

Once I started writing, though, the name business got right properly serious. Much like the naming of a child, it is the name by which that character will be known to all others. Unlike a real living and breathing person, however, the name chosen would live in perpetuity, forever inked on the page never to be changed.

By David Monniaux007 Tanuki© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar
CC BY-SA 3.0User:ZX95, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Character naming for me tends to start with my friends. A good deal of my characters have a first name of a friend of mine and the last name of another friend. Sometimes a nickname will be similar and sometimes I will leave a placeholder in all caps and do a search and replace after I've written some of the story and the character has a bit more of a personality. Sometimes the names write themselves. A grizzled and aging small-town sheriff was instantly Rusty Ford and his trusty bloodhound was named Bronco.

Since I am always writing or editing at least one book, I'm always in need of good names.With that in mind, here are a couple questions for you:
  1. If you're a writer, how do you come up with your names?
  2. As a reader, to what degree do the names of characters affect your opinion of the book?
  3. Is there a name that makes you strongly dislike?
  4. Is there a name you love?
~ Andrew

January 18, 2018

Goodbye to an American Legend

I met him once.

It was a warm summer day in Arkansas. Late July. I had just arrived at the Oghma Creative Media writers' retreat. At the time I had a contract for one book with them and I was there to learn a few things and meet the people who had my book in their hands.

He was the big star of Oghma, with dozens of titles under their publishing banner and more than a hundred and fifty novels to his name. When he sat down beside me at the critique table I didn't know what to do. I was nervous as all get-out and for the first critique session, I said nothing. When the second critique session came, however, I had to speak up if I was going to get full value out of the opportunity to pick some of the minds I had the pleasure of spending time with.

I read an excerpt from a book Oghma had not yet committed to publishing. It was the first time I had written fiction in the first person present tense. I spent the hour prior to the critique session rewriting what I had in the third person past tense and I wasn't too happy with how it was turning out, but I read it anyway. When I was done the feedback was nothing short of wonderful, but there he was beside me, arms folded over his chest, cowboy hat upside down on the table beside him, legs outstretched with his feet crossed. I couldn't tell if he was impressed, angry, or confused.He stared straight into my writer's soul, nodded, and said, "I liked it."

I sat down for the rest of the afternoon and started rewriting the rest of the book. After I read the next session his only feedback was to be careful with the "I, I, I" nature of a first-person narrative. I made a note both mentally and in my manuscript.

Near the end of the retreat, everyone was picking up copies of books from the people they had just met. Knowing my dad likes a nice "oaty" Western, I asked Dusty if he would be so kind as to sign one for him. He picked out a book, the first in a series he thought my dad might like and put a nice little inscription on the inside cover. Then, he handed me The Mustanger and the Lady. He said I should read it and that it was being turned into a movie.  The inscription is something nice. I won't tell you what it is, but it is nice and I'm glad I have those words from him.

When we got back to the tables in the meeting room he handed the two books to me. I asked him how he would like me to handle payment. He smiled. It was the first time I had seen him smile in two days. He said, "You can give me a copy of your book when it comes out." He was speaking of Bent But Not Broken, my first book and a collaboration with my wife and daughter. It's a story about my little princess's scoliosis surgery and all of the trials and tribulations our family had to endure throughout that journey.

For the last six months, I have been looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to him at the retreat this summer. My book officially launches in two days on January 20th, but as far as Amazon is concerned it's available for purchase today.

Dusty Richards died this morning. The funeral for his wife, Pat, was just a couple days ago. They were both in a terrible car accident a little while ago and eventually succumbed to their injuries. No one told Dusty that his wife had passed, but I think he knew. You don't get to be his age and live that kind of life with someone by your side for 56 years and not know in your gut when they're gone.

I met him once, and I was really looking forward to meeting him again.

~ Andrew
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January 08, 2018

Blood Memories and Synchronicity

Coincidences are pretty cool. I try to maintain a skeptical and scientific mind whenever possible, but the human brain's ability to find patterns and propensity to seek out connections is at times too strong for me to overlook.

Three years ago today I donated blood to my daughter for her pending scoliosis surgery. It's what Canadian Blood Services calls a directed donation. In the case of parents and children, if their blood is a match, the parent can donate blood to the child. Avery ended up needing 5 liters (more than a gallon) for her surgery so my single donation was literally just a drop in the bucket, but it was an amazing moment for me and Canadian Blood Services worked a good bit of magic to ensure that I was able to do this for my daughter. My wife gave her life, and I got to help save it. I vowed from that day forward to donate as many times as it would take to match the number of donors needed for her surgery, and then keep donating as long as they will allow me to. Avery needed fifteen donors to keep her alive during surgery and today will mark my twelfth donation.



If you'll allow me to stray from the scientific path for a second we're going to get into some wacky numerology stuff.

  • Today is the January 8.
  • It's 12 days until the third anniversary of Avery's surgery (also, in case you haven't heard, the Bent But Not Broken book (One Family's Scoliosis Journey) is coming out in 12 days as well).
  • Today will be my 12th donation.
  • When I showed up at the clinic I had to wait. They gave me a number.



Even weirder is the fact that I was talking with this woman, Kelly after my blood donation and her boyfriend's mother is about to have back/spine surgery. She jotted down the title of the book so she could pick up a copy for her.

Cue freaky Twilight Zone-like music.

Now, if that were the only synchronicity-ish thing to happen today I wouldn't get too excited, but you guessed it, something else happened today that worked out in a rather fortunate way.

I was late getting to work. There was lots of snow and Avery helped me shovel the driveway and it made her late for the bus, which was late anyway but there was no way she was getting to school in time unless I drove her, so I drove her. It's a solid twenty minutes out of my way but I was happy to do it so she wouldn't miss anything. Then, I had to get gas. Then, because of the shitty weather, it took an hour to get to work instead of my usual twenty-five minutes. So far just another snowy day in Canada for people on the go and dependent on cars to get to work.

Because I got to work so late, I ate my breakfast late. Because I ate my breakfast late I ate my snack late (mmm cheese). Because I ate my snack late I ate my lunch late. Because I ate my lunch late I was microwaving it a good half hour later than I would have been on any other day.

Today, it so happens that someone at the coffee machine across from the microwave was a colleague I have not spoken to in a while. So we start catching up on stuff. Naturally, at some point, I start plugging the book and giving her the whole story about how it comes out soon and we're so excited to get it in the hands of other families who have children with scoliosis.

Standing on the other side of the kitchen was a woman in for training. I think she was from New York or maybe Boston. Definitely not from here, and I detected the slightest hint of an accent (I'm not going to guess which one for fear of getting it wrong and inciting some sort of Boston vs. New York riot). Anyway, she overheard our conversation and when I showed Avery's before and after x-rays mentioned that she used to work with a company that specializes in low-dose spine x-rays and still does some talks on the subject. Cool.

THEN, she mentioned that she knows the founder of Curvy Girls (at least I think that was the connection). Curvy Girls is totally safe to Google at work. It's a network of girls and young women who have gone through scoliosis bracing and/or surgery that provide a support system for other girls going through the same thing. This mystery colleague hopes to get me some contact information while she's here this week.

I looked them up on the web and when I asked Avery if she was interested in becoming one of their leaders she said she was and that it would be "epic". So we'll see how that all unfolds. I have to tell you, knowing about Curvy Girls three and a half years ago would have been a godsend, but alas, we seem to have been destined to tell our own story and now with the book coming out and hopefully getting Avery involved with Curvy Girls we are.



~ Andrew