WOLVES AGAIN (sort of…)…

It’s been a while since I have posted anything about wolves but I’m finally going to respond to a comment I received about three years ago with regards to “White Wolf Moon” and my depiction of Ginn, the wolfdog. A woman came into the bookshop where I worked at the time and informed me that I misrepresented this animal to be cute and cuddly and not the “killer” that wolves are. I have also been (correctly) informed that wolves do not have blue eyes.

First…the book is fiction. Yes the characters and situations are loosely based on people and events I knew back then and contain a lot of factual information but it is still fiction. Ginn is based on a white wolfdog I had met (yes, she had blue eyes) and in subsequent encounters with other animals of her type I found all of them to be very much like the character I portrayed. Second…I did a search for wolfdog photos and sites that featured the crosses and not only confirmed that if treated properly they can be socialized (although not properly domesticated) and that quite a few did peer through blue eyes. I suppose the eyes are indicative of the wolf content (high content would probably negate the blue eyes of the Husky or whatever the other part of the cross). No there are no blue-eyed wild wolves but the fact is there are many blue-eyed wolfdogs out there. By the way the questions I received about Ginn have been answered in “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon”. As for wolves being “cuddly”…come now. We all know that wolves are predatory carnivores and trying to cuddle an actual wild wolf (if you could even find one) is nature’s equivalent of Russian roulette with five rounds in the chamber. That’s the reality. Do I love wolves? Yes but I think “respect” would be a better word.

I find it interesting that, according to a couple of sellers that flog Canadian and British Columbia souvenirs, the two most requested animals are bears and wolves. My local thrift shop will tell you that if it has anything to do with wolves, whether posters or sculpts, they rarely last more than a day on the shelves and Walmart sells out of those wolf keychains before anything else (even though they incorrectly have blue eyes). Tourists spend millions of dollars a year to come to our country to see the wildlife yet we blatantly slaughter these animals under the guise of “control” or “maintenance”. We aerial gun down wolves to “protect” the Caribou then turn around and lease those delicate lands to oil and forestry businesses thus destroying the one thing that these animals need…a safe and secure habitat.

Okay…elections.

Both the U.S. and Canada are in the throes of election campaigns of sorts and for whatever reason I’m intrigued by both this time around. I’ll pass on commenting on the “hair” aspects of our election…Margaret Atwood said it better than I could:

http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/hair-is-in-the-election-season-air-but-is-it-crucial-to-your-vote

I just wonder why no-one is using this type of campaign against Trump.

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OF WOLVES AND SUCH….

This blog is not really about wolves but it is a subject in which I consider myself to have above average (although by no means expert) knowledge so it’s easier to make my point. From witnessing my first wolf pack in the wild on our farm in Ontario in the 1950s to having a much more recent encounter with (fenced) wolves at a Christmas Light Celebration at the BC Wildlife Park outside Kamloops, wolves have always played some sort of minor role in my life.

When I was beginning work on the sequel to White Wolf Moon I decided to research this animal so I could present my canine character with more authenticity. It was then I discovered the ugly truth about the internet.

It seems anyone who can type has an opinion these days and that opinion doesn’t have to be based on anything concrete or valid. It’s just an opinion. Having an opinion is fine (everyone should have one or two) but for a reader to blindly accept these opinions without question simply confirms what I feel is one of those things wrong with the world today.

I’m not a follower, nor am I a leader. I feel that comments made by people on both sides of any issue should be checked out but it appears most people don’t want to hear the truth. They just want someone to confirm that what they already believe is the truth. Just tell them what they want to hear and the ‘likes’ will come. One of these anti-wolf pages is currently on the “historic” bandwagon posting unverified newspaper stories and illustrations from days gone by. They claim that these unsubstantiated hackneyed articles from the 1700s complete with woodcuts and etchings are the factual journalism of the times and they prove “that modern wolf science is pure fiction”. By the way through minimal research I discovered that one of their latest “fact” illustrations is from The Red Fairy Book (published1890). No need to tell you what fairy-tale we’re talking about.

We live in an age where credible information is out there but a lot of people have neither the comprehension nor the time or patience to learn what is real and what isn’t. It’s easier for them to take the lazy way out, much preferring to have some narrow-visioned snake-oil salesman with a pocket-full of agendas and videos to sell tell them what to think rather than form their own educated opinion.

A side note: I generally steer away from commenting on American politics because I really don’t understand the workings and, as a Canadian, it really isn’t my place but…

I watched the SOTU address (which reaffirmed why I like Obama) but I just couldn’t take my eyes off John Boehner. Am I the only one that thought he looked like the ‘before’ picture in a Preparation-H ad? With millions of people watching him this man didn’t possess the self-pride to at least appear interested in anything. It’s clear that he and Obama aren’t after-school buddies but there should be at least minimal respect for the office, if not the man. I’m not a fan of our Mr. Harper but I respect the position he holds.

Respect, or the lack of it, is one of the big issues in our world today. Respect for others and respect for oneself seems to have disappeared. We, as a people, show little respect for our environment. Politicians are trying to force through “safe” pipelines on fragile landscapes while, coincidently, the waterways in Yellowstone National Park have just been polluted with 50,000 gallons of crude from a leak. Our BC Government was (perhaps still is) considering opening up our Provincial Parks for oil and gas exploration. Oddly enough the fact that big business, politicians, and money mongers have no respect for anything doesn’t surprise me. It’s the little guy that types “sweet” on his social media page under the story of two RCMP officers being shot in Alberta. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Perhaps this lack of respect is a sign of the times. In the old days before the internet if you chose to call somebody down you’d best not walk past the schoolyard after dark but there’s safety in the anonymity of social media today. You can sound big and tough while living in your parent’s basement smokin’ dope and free from the fear of retribution. Perhaps the lack of respect has been here all along but I don’t think so. I also don’t think it’s as widespread as it appears, at least I hope it isn’t. It’s just that with today’s technology it’s easier for these people to be heard…but that doesn’t mean we have to listen.

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CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

When I worked for At Second Glance Books in Kamloops I would occasionally receive a complimentary copy of a book from an up and coming local or regional author. The purpose was simply for me to read it so I could speak with some knowledge of the product if anyone asked. Fortunately with some titles nobody asked.

Last week while organizing my library I stumbled on a few of these self-published works. After shelving the other books into a somewhat systematized array I sat in my chair and did some selective reading and, of the three I scanned, I quickly discovered something they all had in common. The characters all spoke in much the same ‘voice’. The same patterns, rhythms, and sentence structure was used regardless of which character was involved in the dialogue. As much as I respect and congratulate people who self-publish we all have to be held to a certain standard and something this simple is actually easy to correct.

I’ve learned to distinguish voice patterns by eaves-dropping in public. If you listen carefully you’ll soon pick out the little oddities that make some people unique. Shorter sentences, a proliferation of ‘ums’, variance in pitch and pattern, a bit of a stutter…it’s all subtle yet obvious when you listen.

I picked up a copy of White Wolf Moon and did the same selective reading and breathed a sigh of relief. Mostly I had managed to create individual voices for my characters but there were a few areas that I could see readers having trouble following the dialogue especially with some of the longer conversations between Evan and Danny. The real life voices of these two men are surprisingly similar but there are subtleties that I didn’t manage to get across throughout the book. Without regular name tags I could see confusion.

The wonderful thing about publishing a first book is what you learn from it. Not just the whole publishing process but the mistakes you made in creating the book, the actual writing. Overall I’m pleased with the way White Wolf Moon turned out but there are some things I’m not anxious to repeat in the second book.

When I discovered the confusion in voice I started (once again) from the beginning of the new book and within three pages found areas where the dialogue needed clarification. As the writer you know what it’s supposed to say but the reader doesn’t know where the conversation is going until they get there. It’s important to make the journey as easy and stress-free as possible so I’ve made some minor clean-up changes.

I have some unique characters this time around. They speak in a specific dialect using colloquialisms and bad grammar. Those are easy to depict but the subtle differences between Danny and Evan need more work to convey. Mostly I believe it’s in the rhythm and sentence length. Evan is a bit of a thinker and his words are generally more deliberate while Danny talks off the top of his head in shorter, choppier sentences. As I said the differences are subtle but they have to be made obvious in order for the reader to hear which character is speaking. Yes I still need character name tags but I don’t want them every seventh or eighth line unless there’s an action involved.

Now comes the part where I digress.

As most of you know I am pro-wolf. I used to visit the anti-wolf pages just to get a laugh, mostly at the impressive lack of grasp of the English language that many of these folks possess. For a year or so I copied some of the more idiotic comments into a file simply called “Stupid Comments”. It is interesting to read these comments as a single unit. They reveal a mentality and attitude that borders on total “nutso” and I would think they could provide an in-depth study into some rather twisted psychological traits if analyzed but I’ll leave that for someone who’s interested in such things.

When I was creating a backwoods, less-than-educated character for the new book I wanted to use some of these comments as they are genuine and grass roots. Two things happened as I was reviewing these little treasures. One…I gave my character Fergus a couple of these lines and it sounded like a Saturday Night Live satirical skit. The words and dialect were actually too unbelievable for a fictional character. My people have to be real and poor ol’ Fergus…wasn’t. The second thing that happened was that I quickly realized the similarity in many of the comments especially the aforementioned speech patterns and rhythms. After grouping these comments I noticed that, even with different names, some are virtually identical. The same words were misspelled, the same lack of punctuation, and the same catch phrases. Some comments were completely identical even down to the placement of the same text shortcuts (lmao, lol etc.). There is no question that at least four of these “individuals” is the same person and is also an administrator on two different pages. One other individual is behind at least three pseudonyms and even has some interesting conversations with himself. Of course there are many other people on these pages who proudly display their shortcomings when it comes to communication skills. That’s pretty sad…especially when you read a comment like: “Its always a good hunting season just as long as your in the hills right, and my bad i didnt mean that bad really i giess i thought you did but now i know ypu wernt sorry.”. The sad (and shocking) part? If you click on his name it takes you to this man’s fb page where you discover that he is a professor at Idaho State University.

I’m not sure what to draw from this experience. These people can’t write and, judging by many of the comments, aren’t all that interested in reading either. Has this computer generation just become lazy or is the education system failing big time? I admit that this is a small segment of the population but it still amazes me that there’s even a segment that managed to fall through the cracks this badly. There’s probably a bigger social issue at play here but again I’ll leave that to someone who enjoys exploring that sort of thing.

I don’t frequent anti-wolf pages any more, it’s far too depressing. When I read the dialogue between Fergus and Evan I feel good. Fergus is fictional but real to me. When I gave him dialogue written by real people that I assumed would be of a similar character he became unreal, a caricature. Perhaps it’s like the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” and in this case I think I’ll stick with fiction.

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THINK BEFORE YOU YAP….

About a year ago I posted a quote from the introduction of a study written by Berton Hernie (a renowned British animal biologist) to one of those ‘intellectual’ anti-wolf pages. I received quite a few responses but surprisingly only one that asked for a link to this study…only one. I suffered a lot of sandbox-caliber names and was criticized for using quotes from someone who doesn’t live in North America (which is a fair comment). “It doesn’t apply…what would a British *** know about the wolves of the west”…you know, the usual rants from the usual list of suspects. One poster informed me that she had read the study and accused me of “cherry-picking” the “pretty line” that suited my argument (again, fair enough). I had a comment from the moderator of another anti-wolf page suggesting that Mr. Hernie’s research applied only to the wolves of Europe and if I’d read the full study I would have known that. In fact I ended up with seventeen comments in the hour before my post mysteriously vanished. Seems someone finally realized that there is no such person as Berton Hernie and if you say his name over and over you’ll realize to whom I was referring.

All I was trying to do was make the point that some folks are more eager to argue about something they know nothing about than to think. I honestly didn’t believe anybody would fall for it but I was wrong. I didn’t do it to embarrass anyone although I’m not about to apologize to any of those people that took the bait (especially the two that actually “read” the study).

By the way here’s the quote I used (taken from the ‘introduction’ of Mr. Hernie’s ‘paper’): “To fully appreciate its value one must only venture into the backyard of the wolf. There you’ll find a garden of beauty, harmony, and balance. Scientific terms fail to describe the splendor of nature untarnished. That task might best be left in the hands of the poet unfettered by prejudice and with open eyes, heart, and mind.”

This goes back to my previous post about research. I stated that without doing my research for a scene set in Edmonton, Alberta, anyone residing there could have taken me to task for my lack of knowledge of the city even though I’d lived there most of my life. My “Hernie” comment prompted only one person out of seventeen to research what I had quoted but sure as shooting she would have been the one to pick up my book.

As writers of fiction we actually need people that will pull apart what we’ve written. They keep us honest and on our toes. Another quote from Berton Hernie: “It isn’t what the writer puts into the words; it’s what the reader takes out of them.”

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RESEARCH? Why bother?

The current way of thinking pertaining to the Canadian Grey Wolf on certain anti-wolf pages is that the Canadian Government decided (wolf) generations ago that it was going to design and breed a super wolf…a hybrid killing machine that would eliminate the ungulate population in the U.S. so that a) hunters would have to come to Canada to hunt and spend their money and b) the American government would cite that “without any hunting there would be no need for guns” and therefore would implement gun control measures.

I love America and the times I’ve visited I’ve found the general population to be genuinely friendly and real folk but this is just one of those absurd issues that make me wonder what the hell is going on not only there but here…and everywhere.

I have to keep reminding myself that this type of thinking is spouted by a minority with a collective big mouth but I also look at the number of people buying into these fairy tales. I’ve come to the conclusion that a certain segment of the world’s population needs bad stuff to make them feel good. I’ve grown weary of all the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK and 911 but now Sandy Hook was all a conspiracy? The Boston Marathon bombing was a conspiracy? I suppose if you buy into these then Canadian scientists developing DNA for a super-wolf pack back in the late forties makes a lot of sense. I can picture these three or four science guys sitting around plotting how they can destroy game herds in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho in 2014. And they acquired the technology needed to carry out their nefarious scheme from a flying saucer that crashed through the roof of Maple Leaf Gardens during a Stanley Cup final game. It killed about 3,000 people but of course we had to cover it up. Okay I made up that last part but I’m sure someone will believe it.

Since this non-native super wolf story unfolded there have been countless reports of these 250 pound killers (no actual proof though) showing up on people’s back porches and chasing elderly women from bus stops. Stories about a fully-grown wolf “trying” to get through a patio screen or, my particular favorite, a hunter and his son breaking through heavy underbrush only to “surprise” seven wolves lined up in a clearing ten feet in front of them. My God…paranoia fodder or what? These fables have become common and are accepted as Gospel by the disciples who worship these pages.

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I write fiction but even fiction needs a firm grasp in reality if it is to be believed. My son has a Pit-cross that is probably half the size of that wolf “trying” to get through the patio screen but his dog went through our screen like it wasn’t there. And before you make up a story about “surprising” a wolf pack you might want to research the wolf’s hearing and sense of smell then tell me you could get within ten feet of them without them knowing you were there. I won’t even get into the configuration of a wolf pack at rest. Suffice to say they wouldn’t be “lined up”.

Research is all important if you’re writing anything. I daresay the fiction writer does nearly as much research as someone writing a fact-based book. In the book I’m currently finishing I refer to Edmonton, Alberta for one chapter. I lived there most of my life until I moved in 1994. Even though the area was clear in my mind after I’d completed the chapter I googled all the landmarks I’d referenced…then had some re-writing to do. Most of them were gone and the street I referred to is now one-way and an action I had presented would not be possible. Studying the google earth photos gave me a clearer reference and helped me add the touch of realism I wanted.

Is this important? Yes. Without me checking up on myself someone from Edmonton could pick up my book and see right through me but as it is they can now follow the story-line in a setting that they’re familiar with.

It’s all in the details.

WHAT’S IN A NAME….

Wow…the power we creators of characters possess is mind-numbing.

A half-dozen people live in my little world and I control their very thoughts…not to mention their eating habits, wardrobe, and sex lives. They become real to me in the hopes that they seem real to the reader and, for whatever reason, I have managed to pull it off.

About a year ago a reader condemned me for what I did to Jenn, one of the characters in both books. “How could you put that sweet young girl into such a terrible situation” was the comment. While I reminded her that it was just fiction I felt pretty good that this lady had come to love Jenn as a person and not just a character. To have a reader be just as involved with one of my people as I am is flattering. I have to admit that I was actually uncomfortable putting Jenn into that situation but then she’s a big girl…she can handle it.

Jenn’s boyfriend Matt was to be introduced in ‘White Wolf Moon’. He was to accompany Jenn to the photography exhibit where she uncovered Evan’s secret but in one of the final edits I changed his character into a female roommate instead of a boyfriend and edited him out of later scenes. Having him around that early would have eliminated the possibility of any exploration into Evan’s feelings toward Jenn so…bye bye Matt.

In this sequel I introduce him to the rest of the characters and it actually goes quite well except for one small detail.

“Matt” was a filler name. I hadn’t given any thought to it and I’m not sure why I even used it but I knew it would be changed later when I could came up with something better. He was still Matt up until a few days ago when I decided to go for a stronger name. Among others I tried “Jason” and “Ken” (subtle family references here) but I decided that “Mark” sounded good so I hit the find/replace button and in an instant Matt’s life, as he knew it, changed.

So did mine.

I have a mental image of all the characters I have created…how they look, their mannerisms, and voice. Every time I read something Mark had said or done I pictured Matt. As silly as it sounds this guy isn’t “Mark”…he is Matt.

So find/replace again and Matt’s life is back to normal. Jenn really didn’t mind, or so she says. She’s just happy she has a boyfriend and a ‘cutie’ at that. If she’s happy then so am I…but I also know she’s just humoring me. She prefers “Matt”.

It’s amazing how we identify with the people we create. I’ve just completed a particularly emotional scene with Evan. He is gripped in sadness throughout most of it and is twice drawn to tears. While I wrote the first draft I was fine but during the last reading I felt the sadness that he felt. I won’t confess to shedding any tears although I’m not saying I didn’t. Evan goes through a myriad of emotions this time around, from melancholy to outright anger and I’m with him every step of the way…as I am with all my “people”.

I’m now working on what might be the final showdown, a confrontation between Evan and his old nemesis. Evan usually avoids conflict (although he has already had a bit of a physical altercation in this book) so I have to create a situation where the bad guy leaves him no choice but to react well outside his character. This also means outlining the villain for the reader but drawing out a malevolent character isn’t something I’ve done before.

To try and see life through evil eyes and to use what I’ve learned through those eyes to intentionally provoke a character that is inherently peaceful and innocent is going to be tough but I’m actually looking forward to getting into the mind of a personality totally foreign to me.

And this is what’s exciting about writing…blogsign

BUT WHO’S COUNTING….

Are there really more idiots out there now or are we just seeing more of them because of social media? In the old days if someone walked up to me and threatened to “put a bullet through my ‘wolfaboo’ head” he would be arrested and, given a couple of witnesses, charged. It happens all the time on-line though. Safe within the anonymity of an A.K.A. and a generic profile pic people feel free to express their hatred for anything and everything. While one might assume that there is some sort of social-media police force out there that would monitor such activities…apparently there isn’t. Hatred in words and images abound and perhaps it’s gotten too out of control for anyone to reel it back in. There are those that claim ‘Freedom of Speech’ but that really doesn’t apply here. Social media, regardless of the “social” connotation, is private enterprise. Moderators have the right to control what is presented on their site/pages. Mainstream publishers all reserve the right to edit contributions for not only the integrity of their publication but for community standards. Why can’t the power people behind social media do the same thing? Perhaps it stirs up controversy, gets more ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ which means a few more pop-up ads…money. I don’t know.

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I like facebook. I can keep in touch with friends, read a joke or two, stay up-to-date with my interests, and let folks know that White Wolf Moon has two more downloads and one more on-line paperback sale over the last week. It’s fun but it also has a down-side. It has provided a ‘public’ forum for those who used to hide in the shadows.

One of these forums suggested that ‘we should have killed all those hippies when we killed all the wolves’. If it wasn’t for ‘those hippies’ you might not have this opportunity to spread your somewhat skewed philosophies. Some of those dudes were instrumental in the development of most of today’s computer technology and without them you might still be dwelling in the shadows where you belong. This is an example of not doing your homework before you open your mouth. It’s the same philosophy of the elk hunters in Wyoming and Montana who want to totally eliminate wolves from the landscape while bragging about record elk “harvests” and the record numbers of healthy and “trophy” elk taken. Take off the blinders and do your research. The hatred and paranoia they have for the wolf won’t allow them to see the benefit this animal has had on their questionable ‘manly’ activity.

Update on “Of Old Men”…two scenes to go then a read-through to determine edits.

I also want to take a line or two and thank the new followers. I’m checking out all your pages and it appears I have some interesting reading ahead of me. Welcome!