March 30, 2014

Exposing Yourself

(...and other tips for new writers)

Some time ago I took a few paragraphs of my novel and posted it to a couple writers' groups and my personal wall on Facebook. It was the first time I had let "the public" read anything I had written (the short story I had published last year was only seen by my wife and my editors). The feedback was wonderful and supportive from everyone and the critique that came in from the writers was helpful. It was a gut wrenching experience.

Those were just a few paragraphs though. I had written an entire novel (and fired the cupcake cannon), but there was still SO MUCH work to do. So much work! At this stage the whole thing was a disjointed passive voice character smorgasbord blarg of word vomit. In the 25 Steps to Becoming a Traditionally Published Author I had only completed Step 6. If you read that article (which I highly recommend everyone does even if they are not writers) you will see that the next step on the list involves "major surgery".

I'm not a surgeon. Hell, I only took one biology class my whole life and it was a first year university course I took in my fourth year for the easy credit. In a similar parallel, I'm not a writer. Well, I am a writer, but I have limited formal training in the craft. The task in front of me I've never done before. I haven't even seen anyone do it on TV. This was going to take a lot of reading / learning / crying and a little bit of help.

So, I read a few books; novels written by people I knew. I paid attention to how the dialog sounded in my head and to the cadence of the prose. I went back to my notes, the ones I jotted down after I put those few paragraphs out there. Then, I sat down and took a chapter from my novel and gave it a little more shine. I cut a bunch of stuff that didn't move the story forward, tweaked a few things to "show" instead of "tell", and I firmed up the dialog. To keep a promise I made to my wife I plunked the chapter on Evernote and sent her the link.

Step 8 in the 25 Steps article (which I still highly recommend you read) is to give your book to someone you trust. Well, I trust my wife, but there's 240 more pages of surgery left before it's ready. I knew if I didn't get some more feedback soon the rest of it wouldn't be worth reading. So, I took a deep breath and pasted the link into one of my Facebook writer groups.

New Writer Tip #1: Find a supportive writers' group and actively participate.

I posted my thousand words to the group with a request for people to give me their thoughts. Pressing "enter" was the easy part. Settling my stomach down afterwards was significantly harder. It didn't take long for the critique to start flowing. My eyes instinctively jumped to words I wanted to see. Much to my dismay "amazing" and "award winning" weren't anywhere to be found. It was still early but I was getting the feeling that the Giller Prize would have to wait.

What I did get were many excellent suggestions about how to turn certain phrases differently to achieve this or that, helpful comments about wanting to know more about my main character, tough but fair critiques about certain parts, and a dash of ego boosting praise about my dialog. All in all what I got out of this exercise far exceeded my expectations.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I do it again? Absolutely.

With every chapter? Absolutely not. 

My goal is to get better at this so I can write a readable novel without having to crowd source the major edits and rewrites that I should be doing on my own. It's going to take a lot of work, and because I am really lazy it's going to take a lot of time. The good news I won't be going at it totally alone all the time. I'll have a little from some friends who don't mind seeing my work in a naked state.

New Writer Tip #2: When exposing yourself keep an eye out for stiff prose.

~ Andrew

March 26, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge - BET NOW!

After a brief hiatus we're back! I was on vacation and Gordon was... well I don't know and it's probably none of my business. I can tell you that he was fretting over getting this Flash Fiction Challenge WEB VOTE going. He was fretting big time. Why? Because he want's to give away stuff!

One lucky person will be walking away with a digital copy of one of Gordon's books and up to 9 photo downloads from Andrew's Alphabet. You can actually download my photos for free any time, but the winner will get the back story behind each of the photos they select (it's a short paragraph explaining how the picture found its way into my collection. It's not heavy reading, don't worry. Gordon's book will be a more thrilling read, I promise).

Thanks to everyone who participated in the first eight Flash Fiction Challenges. The entries were awesome! Winners 1, 3, 5, and 7 can be found on my blog and winners 2, 4, 6, and 8 can be found on Gordon's Blog. You don't have to go to all the trouble of finding them though because we listed them here. Just click the links below and it will expand and show you each weekly winner. We've also included a couple honourable mentions in the mix as well.

Now, all we need people to do is VOTE! That's right, read the entries and vote for the one you like the most. After a couple weeks we'll tally 'em up and crown someone the Ultimate World Flash Fiction Challenge First Quarter 2014 Champion. Honourable mention will go to whomever can come up with a better title.

So without any further delay, here are the things. Read 'em and cast your vote in the poll thingy below:

  1. Week 1 - Gareth
  2. Week 1 - K.D.
  3. Week 2 - KBR #1
  4. Week 2 - Angela
  5. Week 3 - Jane #1
  6. Week 4 - KBR #2
  7. Week 5 - jmcpike01 #1
  8. Week 6 - pmcpike01 #2
  9. Week 7 - jmcpike01 #3
  10. Week 8 - Jane #2
Pick one and click "Done":

~ Andrew & Gordon

March 23, 2014

Dumbing it Down

I'm having a hard time deciding if humanity is getting dumber. There are too many moments in the day where it looks like we know more but actually seem capable of less.

I can remember standing in front of the mirror. The old dual sided metal razor in my shaking hand. My father stood behind me and reached over my shoulder to help guide the blade around my chin.

"Remember to us long, smooth strokes..." he said. His voice cut through the silence and I flinched, sending the blade deeper into my skin. I watched as a brilliant red drop of blood trickled its way down. It fell into the sink, which was half filled with hot water, and the red splash dissipated into a cloud of brown wisps.

Image taken from my Andrew's Alphabet collection

I also remember sitting in the backseat of a Dodge Omni. My mother was in the front passenger seat and my 16 year old sister was sitting behind the wheel.  My big sister, five years my senior, was learning to drive. Given the typical relationship struggles that occur between teenage girls and their parents, with the added bonus of a car crash on top of that, I was along for what I thought was going to be the best ride of my life.

"Ease up on the accelerator. Good. Indicate your turn. Good. Start to brake... slowly... there you go. Good." My mother was a primary school teacher and had been doing yoga for about as long as I could remember. She had this patience and calmness in her voice that was made for situations like this. Everything my sister did amazed me and I vowed that I would learn to drive as well as she did. At least that was the plan until some years later a car accident tore the dependable little Omni in half. It wasn't her fault, but sibling awe is fickle.

Image courtesy Bamman at en.wikipedia

We humans used to know how to do so many things. These little life nuggets would be passed down from generation to generation and there was a real sense of knowledge; of accomplishment; of pride in learning how to do something the way Mom or Dad taught us.

It seems that as our technology advances the information sharing across generations decreases. Just look up from your desk for a few minutes, or better yet conduct a job interview with a Millennial or a kid from Generation Y. It won't take long to notice the sense of entitlement. It won't take long before you receive a scornful glance that says, I've got more technology in the palm of my hand than there was in the entire hospital you were born in.

Fight the urge to verbalize your internal Churchillesque monologue that will be screaming In which I was born!, before thinking to yourself, And I was learning how to write code before you were even a glint in your parents eye. Before they got high and had three to many drinks while watching X-Files one Friday night, forgot the condom, and had an arrogant little shithead of a child pop out with a smart phone in his hand nine months later.

The copyright of this image belongs to 20th Century Fox.

It's a Me Me Me, now now now world. Are Google and a collection of "how to" YouTube videos suitable replacements for passing down actual knowledge? What will become of us when there are no more "So-and-So & Sons" scattered down Main Street?

Even still, for every case where I see knowledge unnecessarily bleeding away I find a case where the world we live in is getting better. Racism, bigotry, hate... these are all things that are heading the right direction. The Me Me Me, now now now culture allows virtually instantaneous activism - globally. You tell two friends and they tell two friends, topics start trending, people start talking, and before you know it behaviours are changing.

I've seen bills proposed by the government of my country quashed before they were even tabled due to public outcry. Outcry that would not have been heard had it not been for the Me Me Me, now now now crowd and all their fancy new technologies, Twitters, and Facebooks. I don't think I need to tell the people of Egypt what kind of impact this can have.

My parents never passed down any hatred while they were passing down tips on how to drive, shave, level a patio stone, cut the grass, hit a curve ball, block a shot, carry the 1, avoid splitting an infinitive, or turn the pot handle in - but - many other parents and leaders did, and continue to do so today. It reminds me of the "cut the ends off the roast" legend:
A young woman is making a roast for dinner and before putting the meat in the pan she dutifully cuts the ends off. Her husband, having seen her do this time and time again, finally asks, "Why do you cut the ends off like that?"

She replies, "That's the way Mom taught me. Must have something to do with the way it cooks."

The next time the couple was at the woman's parent's house for supper the husband asks of his mother-in-law, "Why do you cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?" She replies, "That the way my mother taught me. It must have something to do with how it cooks."

A short time later, Grandma arrives for supper and the man asks, "Why do you cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan? Does it have to do with how the roast cooks?"

"Heaven's no," she replied. "We often had to feed so many people the darn thing would never fit in the pan."
Not everything that is known is worth sharing.

~ Andrew

March 16, 2014

Another Roadside Attraction

Still on vacation.

Today I'm driving from Somewhere USA to Home.

~ Andrew

March 13, 2014

Remembering Vern


Five years have passed since you were taken from us and not a day goes by we don't remember the love you brought into our lives and into the lives of so many others. We will continue to love others as completely and unconditionally as you did, and to bring laughter to them as often. 

With love and fond memories, 

March 09, 2014

Out of Office

We're sorry, the blogger you are trying to reach is unavailable.

I briefly considered posting from somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean this week, or possibly from some roadside greasy spoon between South Carolina and Holy Crap It's Still Cold and Snowy Canada on March 16, but then I came to my senses.

After more than 60 straight weeks of posting I think I deserve a break. Plus, it's my birthday on the 13th so I'm giving myself a blogging break as a present. It's a milestone birthday too! Man, I sure am going to miss my 20's.

~ Andrew

March 02, 2014

TBR Pile

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”  – Ernest Hemingway

My daughter likes to read. I mean, she REALLY likes to read. She gets it from her mother, and both sets of her grandparents. Me? I like to read; I just haven't done as much of it in my lifetime as I should have. It's a terrible thing I know, but it is the truth.

I grew up with two educators for parents, my father being a sports nut and my mother a gym teacher and yoga fanatic as well. I read lots of books growing up. There were some Choose Your Own Adventure, of course. I read every single one of the Gordon Korman books. I also read: A Boy at the Leafs Camp (mandated reading for any kid growing up playing hockey in Toronto); Vladislav Tretiak's book Tretiak: The Legend; and Ken Dryden's The Game. My favourites though were The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald.

In high school I focused on math and science, and if I'm being honest, reading all that mumbo jumbo turned me off reading in a big way. Plus, I was more interested in sports, girls, my friends, and general teenage shenanigans. Curling up with a good book wasn't high enough on my list of priorities. That said, reading a bunch of books is unavoidable in high school. I did manage to avoid reading a lot of the usual books. Careful selection of English classes saw to that (my high school was quite large and we had ample choices of English classes).

So, my high school years weren't filled with tons of reading for pleasure. If I did it was almost always a Stephen King book. Fast forward to university and it was all advanced calculus, computers, and applied physics. If you throw in a little bit of drinking and a fair amount of debauchery what you don't get is too many novels piling up on the night stand.

Then I grew up, got married, bought a house, had kids, moved a few times, changed jobs a few times... and started writing. Over the last five years or so I've read more books than all my previous reading years combined. None of them will ever be "classics" but many were quite enjoyable to read and I'm a better writer for having read (most of) them.

I am a writer with another job that's not writing and I also have a family and a social calendar. I will always be fighting the battle between writing, reading, and just sitting on my ass doing nothing. I yearn for a time when my entire existence isn't one giant exercise in prioritization. In that vain, I'm left to wonder what's the point of a TBR (To Be Read) pile? The damn thing never gets any smaller!

For every one I do read there's ten more I want to read and ten more on top of those that I should read. I think the pile exists mainly because there's comfort in its existence. It's good to know that there will always be something there; always something to do; always an adventure waiting for me. All I have to do is open the cover and turn a page. Also, if there were no TBR piles then I would have less incentive to have my book sitting on top of one.

  1. Save the Cat
     - Blake Snyder (in progress)

  2. Signal to Noise
     - Gordon Bonnet

  3. The Key to Everything
     - Alex Kimmell

  4. Bigger Than Jesus
     - Robert Chazz Chute

  5. Savage Fire
     - Ben Langhinrichs

  6. Eleven
     - Carolyn Arnold

  7. Billy Purgatory: I am the Devil Bird
     - Jesse James Freeman
~ Andrew