A Rough Year, A New Beginning

Last year was rough for a great many people, myself included. I went through several months of unemployment and unhappy employment. I lost my much loved grandfather and two cats. I finally acknowledged my lingering depression and took steps towards bettering it. I stopped writing for myself, in both fiction and this blog.

And this is just what happened to me. I’ve family and friends who’ve dealt with this and much more.

I have few good things to say about 2016. It’s been a year where I’ve felt a lot of defeat. A lot of exhaustion. A lack of inspiration. Trying to get into my field is still proving difficult. Trying to get my writing done has been even harder.

But I think with all this upset, all this exhaustion, has given many of us a feeling of “I’m done with this. It’s time to push back.” I am one of those people.

We’re all hoping for a better 2017, I think. Anything better requires work though. It may be hard for some of us to gather up our energy and motivation after a long, draining year. Some of us may be stuck in the mindset that, given everything happened in 2016, 2017 will not be much better.

We need to make it better. If not for everyone around us, then for ourselves at the very least.

I’m not going into 2017 with a full plan. We’re not even a month into this new year, and anything can happen. But I have steps. Apply for more jobs. Consider further schooling. Get back to fiction.

Get back to this blog.

I know it won’t be easy to break the cycle 2016 caught me in, but if I don’t try, I will get nowhere.

Thank you, readers, for your support and patience. Now, let’s push back together.

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Categories: musings, This is my life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Where did I go?

This blog has been shamefully dead for several months, despite my frequent promises of returning. Suffice to say, I believe I’ve disappointed many people, myself included.

The past year or so has been difficult for me. A down-turned economy means there’s lay-offs everywhere, and the few jobs in my field are seeing fierce competition. I started 2016 off unemployed. got a new job, and ended up having to quit after a few months due to the conditions there. While I was able to get another job straight away, I felt like I was back at the beginning, and that I would never get anywhere. That I had let everyone down.

My writing has suffered. I have not worked on anything personal in months. The inspiration I once received from the Steampunk community I was part of dried up after too many elitist encounters. The manuscript I had written no longer appealed to me. I started to make moves to improve it, but stopped somewhere along the way.

I’ve been living my depression in distractions. Finding ways to write that, while fun for me, are not working to further what I want from life. I just stopped trying.

But in recent months I’ve made a choice. I’ve taken steps to improve my mental health. And I feel they have worked. Slowly, my depression has alleviated. I feel more motivated to do things. I’m applying for more jobs, going out more.

But my writing is still lagging behind, this neglected blog being a testament to my own failure.

I can’t be a failed writer before I’ve even gotten started. If inspiration will not come, I will make it come. I will start here, returning twice a month with more writer’s thoughts and advice for my readers. I will return to my research, to create a more believable world for people to get lost in. I will look back to the things that had inspired me before and see if they can’t do it again.

Most importantly, I will stop hiding.

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Death in the Pages

There’s been a death in my family.

Death always comes as a shock, even when the individual sits at his door for a long time. When it’s obvious someone is going to die–whether it be illness, age, or an injury that can only be repaired so much–you try to prepare yourself for what’s coming. You think that knowing it’s coming will make things easier. That you’ll be able to move on sooner. That it will be less difficult.

But the moment of death still always comes as a shock.

Death is more than a theme or inevitability in fiction. Sometimes, Death is a character all together. But I’ve always had a fondness for a specific portrayal of Death. I’ve always liked the kind Death.

I think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was my first experience with Death being written in such a way. Although I know he didn’t start out that way, Death–despite bearing the classic appearance of a skeleton in black robes, wielding a massive scythe–was a kind and personable being who cared for the souls he collected. His later iterations never showed him cutting someone’s life short, but rather guiding their souls after they had already died.

During his life, Sir Terry received many letters about his portrayal of Death. Some of those letters were from the terminally ill, thanking him for this version and hoping that Death was truly as the author imagined him.

I don’t care for the cruel Death. The Reaper. The Horseman of the Apocalypse. Any iterations where Death harvests souls like a heartless machine.

Give me the kind Death.

Give me the Death who doesn’t seek out souls to reap, but merely comes to collect them, to sever them from their mortal coils and guide them to wherever they need to go. The Death that cares for humanity and wants them to feel secure in what comes next.

Give me the Death that makes you feel there’s justice in the world when it all ends. The Death that doesn’t take from us, but ensures those we love are brought to a place they can be eternally happy…and those who make the world so harsh are punished justly.

Life is hard enough. Life can be cruel.

So, in fiction? I am glad Death has the option not to be.

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Apologies to be Granted

There’s been utter silence on this blog for several months.

I would like to say that I’ve been busy. That work has kept me busy and that my writing is coming along steadily. But to say that would be a lie. I have scarcely written anything in months, not because I lack the time to write, because I have that in abundance. No, my motivation and inspiration have dwindled. Sitting at my desk and trying to type out words seems more a burden than a challenge. My love of steampunk is nearly gone.

And my job prospects are not too hot either.

I’m in a pit, so to speak, feeling like any efforts on my part go nowhere. It’s paid havoc on my writing in ways I can’t describe. And no matter how I claw, I can’t seem to get myself out.

Perhaps, I just need to sit back and reboot.

While I say I haven’t written anything in months, what I mean is my own stories have seen no progression. My ideas seem unable to stay in my head, nagging endlessly until I write them out. I have been writing, yes, but nothing I can really use for my own purposes. I’ve been using a different medium. Learning how to better delve into characters. Writing things that I’ve never written before, and getting a hang on it.

And I’m having fun with it! But I need to get my focus back. Even if it’s only for a couple hundred words a day.

This is the start.

There is little more I can do about my employment prospects beyond what I’m currently doing. But I can get back to creating. I can force myself to focus, for an hour or two a day, and get back to what I love.

And once a week, provide you with writerly insights and commentary.

Thank you, readers. Now let’s get started.

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Holiday Hiatus

Despite my promises of on-time blog posts a few weeks ago, I have failed to deliver.

I have no one to blame but myself for this. On top of my own lack of motivation to work on my personal projects, this holiday season took a bit of a stressful turn. I had to quit the job I had for four years, and am seasonal staff at another. As of now, I’m not a hundred percent certain they will keep me on in the new year. It seems like a possibility, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Aside from that, this new job and all the hours it provides has left me busy. And often tired.

And so, with half-finished blog posts in my documents and a fire that needs rekindling, I have decided to go on a hiatus until the new year. At which point, it is my resolution that I shall get back to being a writer.

Happy Holidays, readers, and a Happy New Year.

Categories: musings, This is my life | Leave a comment

Roleplay and the Writer: An Exercise in Immersion

If I got into MMORPGs for one thing outside of story and entertainment, it was Roleplay. Now, some of you may read ‘Roleplay’ and think of the sort of kinky stuff come couples do involving costumes and toys and such. As I am talking about a game where I play an elf, this is unlikely the same time of Roleplay.

Roleplay—or RP—in games generally means that you create your character, but give them a backstory and personality. You go through the gaming world as if you are this character, who lives in this world, and who may or may not have been witness to key events from the game’s story. Your character interacts with other characters and you form bonds with them—good or bad—as you move through your own plots and watch the character change before your eyes.

It’s a very immersive process, really, and it has given me better insight on getting inside my character’s head.

For the sake of clarity and focus, I play World of Warcraft. WoW operated on an instant messaging chat for communication between players. This is the method I prefer RP in for the sake of immersion. When RPing with someone else in this setup, you don’t have tons of time to respond. Your partner is waiting somewhere on the other end of the game you’re the next thing your character will do or say. You can’t respond two hours later. You can’t get up and come back to it after you’ve had some time to think. You’ve got maybe a few minutes to read what they’re saying, assess the situation, and determine how the character you’ve crafted will respond. You make the circumstances of past RPs into consideration as you get into your character’s head and make each move.

For example, not too long ago, I was involved in a storyline where my character—an Elven mage—had her son kidnapped. Her allies in recovering him were the boy’s instructor—a rather powerful priest—an old friend of her family—a burly, disgruntled paladin—and a man she’d been cultivating a relationship with over several months—a warlock nobleman.

Through magical means, they find where the kidnapper is keeping her son, managing to avoid the traps waiting for them until they reach the building…only to find that boy is gone but for some blood and a scrap from his robe.

Now, over the past few months, the warlock character had become very close to my mage and her son. The kidnapper was actually one of his enemies and he held a lot of anger on himself for failing to protect the boy. Seeing that they were too late only made it worse.

And this character has a literally explosive temper. I’m talking fire everywhere. He was radiating flames, screaming like a madman, and every so often his magic would burst, causing damage to the building they were in. At the time, he was with two characters—my mage and the priest.

This had been an aspect of the warlock that his player and I had been discussing: the idea that she should see him at his worst. I had to think of how she would react. What she would do. And take in past RPs to know what would affect those actions.

In this case, it was the knowledge that she had seen him lose control like this, briefly, when they’d discovered who’d taken her son.

Had she not seen this, her reaction would have been pure terror. Frightened screaming. Possibly trying to talk to him, but through panic and begging him to calm down. She may have even let the priest—whom had never seen such a reaction from the warlock—knock him unconscious.

However, because she had seen a hint of this before, I was able to turn to a core aspect of her personality. My mage can keep calm in a stressful situation if she has logic to cling to. In this case, it was knowing that she could use the scrap of her son’s clothing to divine where he might be. Having seen his flaring temper before, and knowing the warlock for who he was, she was able to take the situation differently.

She was still scared out of her wits—the man was losing control of his magic right before her eyes—but she was able to talk to him, and her worry for his personal safety overrode the fear she was feeling. She was able to give him logic to cling to as well, and he was able to calm down enough to tell them to get away from him so he could release the magic that was currently threatening to overpower him.

As writers, it is important that we are able to get right inside our characters heads and live in their moments. And nothing has taught me to do so better than knowing there is someone waiting for my response to their own actions.

It is an exercise I would recommend trying, if you are in to RPGs. If not, try to write as if you are. As if you’re trapped in a moment, and someone is waiting to see what you’ll do next.

Because your reader certainly will be.

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NaNoWri-Elephants.

So, last time I promised my return to steady updates. Getting a seasonal job turned that into a bit of a fib. We shall actually get back on track now.

But let’s get rolling, even if we’re a little late.

It’s NaNoWriMo and aspiring writers everywhere are trying to buckle down and prepare themselves for a daily word count of 1500 to reach their goal. A 50 000 word novel in a single month. It’s quite the feat! A feat I, admittedly, have failed year after year to accomplish. In years past, school work kept me occupied, and now I’m working two jobs to get some extra cash this holiday season. So, I have decided on a new strategy this year.

It’s called the Elephant Method…or something similar.

Writers can often find themselves needlessly distracted by the Internet. Maybe they needed a picture reference. Perhaps they were just looking for that perfect word. Next thing they know, they’ve spent an hour surfing social media and have lost momentum.

The Elephant Method is one solution for this. When the writer hits a point where they just can’t think of the right word…they use ‘elephant’ as a placeholder. Then they can keep writing and return to it during their second run through, and focus solely on replacing the elephants.

So, your sentence could read “It was just past elephant, and Professor Elephant’s office smelt of elephant, elephant, and fresh elephant” on the first run.

When you get around to editing, the sentence will then read “It was just past eleven at night and Professor Aubrey’s office smelt of cigarettes, ink, and fresh vomit.”

Pretty simple, provided you don’t forget an elephant or have elephants in your story.

But the idea is to keep you in your writing zone, preventing you from losing focus while you search for the perfect word or description. Remember, a rough draft is rough for a reason! You can substitute any word you might want– poodle, mango, chicken, butterfingers, I don’t know. It’s all up to you!

Now, I’m off to a late start, but. I’d best get back to mango-ing mangos with mangos.

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Return from Hiatus

It has been a few months since I last wrote in this blog. I have not been away or injured or sick. My lack of updates is the result of a motivational downfall. Writing has started to seem like a chore recently, and my mind seeks to distract me from it at every turn.

It’s hardly an excuse, but it’s what has happened.

What brings on such a fugue of words? A great many factors, I think. There’s a recession where I am, and I am having difficulty getting a job. With mass lay-offs left and right, competition is rising in the job market. I’ve been looking for a full time job–a career–for over a year now, and my odds don’t seem to be improving.

I haven’t had much contact with fellow writers recently either. Normally, an afternoon spent talking out stories with my peers energized me to write. Our bi-monthly writer workshop gave me a goal to reach and have a new piece written by. But my friends have lives and events as well, so I have not seen many of them. My extroverted side is a bit starved for their companionship.

The last factor is probably a loss of inspiration. My mind doesn’t wander to scenes or dialogues when experiencing down time. Or it does, but not towards my own stories. I’ve been distracted lately, and. I think I need to spend some time watching the movies that inspire me, re-reading the books by authors I wish I could write like, or playing the games that give me ideas.

But does this mean I am not writing? Not at all! While nothing I’ve written recently has the potential for a mass market (or so it seems, who knows), I have been putting my fingers to the keyboard and devising plots and stories and characters. Most of the writing. I’ve been doing recently is reactive, and it’s given me better insight on how to get into a character’s head or assisted me in writing things I had never written before.
Perhaps this dry spell was a period of learning for me. But it has lasted long enough. I return to you now. Starting next week, I will be sharing new thoughts and observations and opinions.

I’ve missed you, readers. Let’s return to our discussion.

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A Week at the Street Show

I apologize for the lack of an update last week. My time was being filtered in all sorts of different directions. Particularly new for me was my volunteer work at our local theatre festival: The Fringe.

Running on its 34th year with the Mary Poppins-esque theme of SupercaliFringelistic, the Fringe is an ode to theatre both on stage and in the streets. Venues host shows ranging from local to global, and street performers come from all over to perform for thousands for a period of ten days.

I only took in two shows this year—which I will talk about next week—but I saw a lot of street performers from my post. I worked with the Community Engagement team, helping Fringe sponsors and getting people to sign up for the Fringe Fanclub newsletter and our big draw. I spent about four hours every day for a week inside the gazebo that was facing the big outdoor stage, where some of the better street shows get to perform.

Here were a few of my favourites:

Eden—A stunt performer working with ladders and whips. I can attest from personal experience that whips are not easy to use without hurting yourself—though, in my case, it was a cheap Halloween whip and my sister was the one wielding it, but her thigh severely regretted it—but this guy makes it look easy. In addition to demonstrating his skills cracking two whips at the same time in rapid succession, a major portion of his show had him aiming at spaghetti, which he would hold behind his back, between his legs, or on top of his head.

Every street performer I saw had a comedic aspect to the show, and Eden was no different. His humour was far more adult than the other performers, and did consist of a lot of Asian jokes (He’s Chinese-Canadian) that were often so bad you had to laugh. Admittedly, his humour doesn’t make him the best performer for your kids to see if you’re worried about them actually understanding those kinds of jokes.

Though, he did give me one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.

“Sir, can you please not laugh while I’m trying to be sexy?”

The Flying Dutchmen—A combination juggling and unicycle act. Upwards of five flaming torches were a staple in their act. They demonstrated their juggling with some flaming torch warm-ups and juggling around a volunteer and knocking a cigarette out of their mouth—no flaming torches here, of course, just regular juggling pins. Their entire performance built up to a tandem juggling trick involving two tall unicycles and fire.

The Dutchmen had a “Smart Guy, Dumb Guy” routine, which was funny, and certainly more child friendly than a performer like Eden. Only a couple jokes would go over a kid’s head, but mostly because it might be a pun as opposed to anything dirty. These two were a treat to watch.

Victor Rubilar—If I had to pick who I thought the funniest performer was, it’s this guy. All the way from Barcelona (though he claimed to be from Argentina), his act was entirely based around his soccer prowess, and the stereotype of the Latin Lover. A holder of five World Records, Rubilar’s act consisted of various tricks involving some of the most neon soccer balls I’d ever seen. Spinning tricks, kick tricks, juggling upwards of five soccer balls at a time, these were the staples of his act.

But between his warm-ups and his grand finale, he proudly demonstrated his dance prowess. He selected a woman from the audience—always one with a boyfriend or husband accompanying them—and brought them on stage. He had this elaborate story he’d crafted for this volunteer, whom he called Maria, about their whirlwind romance back in Argentina. This was followed by a minute-long dance montage that encompassed several songs and several genres, all performed seamlessly, to demonstrate Rubilar’s skills at seduction and rising to a climax involving a bikini tan line.

Trust me, it’s hilarious when you see it.

The Street Circus—If I had to pick the best act overall, I would vote these guys. A husband and wife duo, the Street Circus was an acrobatic show with stunts that could have put the performers straight into Cirque de Soleil. Their jokes were mostly family friendly and their warm-ups simple tricks that I’d seen performed before by other performers, it was the their solo acts that impressed me the most. The wife—Kim—was a contortionist who performed an extended acrobatic, contortion, hula hoop dance to “You Spin Me Right Round,” starting with one, going steadily to four, and ending in a dramatic twirls of forty-two hula hoops. Her husband—Dan—was up next, performing in a giant ring of steel called the cyr wheel. This was where the show took the Cirque turn, with beautiful instrumental music and a hypnotic amount of grace on Dan’s part as he spun within, creating acrobatic poses as he kept the wheel’s momentum.

The rest of their act showcased the acrobatic skills they had learned to do together. Their finale was admittedly not my favourite part of the show, though it was an impressive combination of three different circus acts. I really loved their solo performances the most.

Dan & Kim were by far the best street act I saw this year. I hope to see them again next year.

And with any luck, I’ll have the same great seats.

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My Favourite Place for Names

A while back I wrote about names. I offered some stories and strategies I use for coming up with names. What I didn’t talk about, however, was how sometimes names just won’t come. Everything you try doesn’t sound right. Or you aren’t sure where to start looking when it comes to names for people from different cultures. Or maybe it’s not a person you need to name, it’s a place. What do you do then?

Find yourself a name generator.

I have a personal favourite for this task that I wish to share. Fantasy Name Generators was a website I came across while bored browsing the web. The Fantasy Name Generator is an endless source of naming delight. Their random generators touch all corners of your writing needs, from fictional people in a modern setting, to fantasy worlds, and the realm of fanfiction.

Under the ‘Real Names’ section, seekers will find three columns listing generators by ethnicity. The names range from modern to archaic to ancient in some cultures. Within, you can select whether you want a male or female name, as the family names generated are the same for both, you can easily go through dozens of names before finding one that you think fits.

Some warning here though. As some cultures use different writing systems from us and have different naming conventions, it is always best to do some follow-up research on a name. Make sure you have the western spelling right, and maybe ask someone from that culture if the name looks right.

Under the Fantasy Names tab, you get a strange and assorted list. Anything from Amazons to serial killers to vampires to wizards can have their name generated here. You get goblin names like Plyz or Slivak. Detective names like Norah Sharpe or Dan Maxwell. Superhero names like Venombite, or Doctor Smooth Vulture.

Okay, that last one was a bit silly. Some of them are.

The Pop Culture section is a fanfiction writer’s dream. While it’s not as extensive, it does focus on the bigger names: Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars and such. Great if you’re trying to name that minor original character from your Avatar: The Last Airbender story. Or if you just can’t decide what to name your next World of Warcraft character.

But for some, naming a character is easy. It’s the places around them—the cityies and cafes the parks and mountains—that stump the writer-to-be. Your protagonist could have a date at The Royal Junction or buy their morning brew from Big Boulder Coffee or spend their nights with friends at Club Embassy. Information is exchanged during a foggy night at Sunnyside Memorial Park. The possibilities here are endless.

But that’s not where it ends. Need a title for that catchy tune the bard is always singing? They have a Song Name generator. They’ve got Guild Names and Spell Names and Afterlife Names and Currency Names. Within their “Other” section, you’ll find all sorts of miscellaneous names you never knew you needed!

But this site offers more than just names. Stuck on an idea for your next short story? It offers plot descriptions and prompts. Need an actual idea for a city? It won’t only give you a name, it will give you some history and attractions for you to use as a springboard when you develop your world. The descriptions can be tweaked of course, to better fit your story.

The Fantasy Name Generator is easily one of my favourite resources for names. Here’s hoping it may become one of yours.

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