And On the First Day…

After writing three books I’m familiar with the process of creating characters and controlling every move they make. I dictate every word they say and I decide if they live alone or are romantically involved. I choose their friends and pick out their wardrobe, their diet, and the car they drive. I also decide if they live or die. It’s a tremendous responsibility and one I try not to take too lightly but I have to admit that every so often I find myself muttering ‘without me you’d be nothing’ at the screen.

Characters are one thing, or a bunch of things I guess, but with this fourth book I’m not only creating characters but the place in which they live. The previous books were set in actual locations I know well, have visited, or could research easily. I decided this time I would create a fictional setting, a make-believe hamlet in central British Columbia that won’t require hours of fact-finding. That should be easy.

Not so fast Mister Gonzales.

The idea for the story was one of those ‘What if?’ moments. I had watched a nature show about snakes in swamps (no political undertones implied) and a few things piqued my interest, mostly the moody environment that the landscape presented. I decided that with a few modifications it would be a good setting for a tale but I had to find out if such a place could be located in British Columbia. That answer was easy…yes. There are quite a few areas that fall into the parameters but they were all further south than I wanted and creating a fictional world near an actual swamp also wasn’t what I wanted. So where did I want it to be? I found a spot that had all the geographical elements I needed but it would require a major natural event to create the geological base. After a little more research I discovered that such an event took place nearby in the early 1900s, about the time my little hamlet originally came into existence. Sometimes you just get lucky.

I already had a rough storyline so after confirming fault lines, geological data regarding rocks and minerals, possibility of railroad/lumber/mining activity, groundwater levels and a legitimate road/highway access I was ready to go.

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I’m 8,000 words into it and my original rough storyline, although serving me well over the first 3,500 words, has gone from dark and moody to a more light-hearted character-driven general fiction story. I’m actually okay with that (it’s my comfort zone) but I have challenged myself to stick with my original concept and blend two (or more) genres into one story.

It kind of like when Jenn McAvoy asked Evan Morris (White Wolf Moon) about a book he was writing:

“Are you thinking mystery, romance, horror, fantasy?”

“All of the above and with horses, pirates, intergalactic cruisers…I’m not genre-phobic.”

Hmmnnn…that sounds about right. Except for the pirates.

Mike Grant is the author of three novels. “White Wolf Moon”, “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon”, and “Fergus”. Visit his Amazon page to find out more.

 

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NEW WAVE?

I wrote the following nearly forty years ago. I’m not sure where I was going with it but like most of my writing from those olden times I must have had a premonition that one day I would look back and wonder. It is what made me look back that interests me.

I wish I could remember what blog I was reading recently that referred to the “new wave” of young indie-authors for I would certainly provide a link. It was one of those writings that, like jalapeno peppers, comes back and bites you long after consumption. I appreciate it when something that someone has created can do that. They plant a little seed in your mind and after sufficient germination the message blossoms and you realize that what was written has become a part of your thoughts. I would however hasten to add the word “current” to the term “new wave” because as far back as I can remember there has always been a new wave of sorts, whether in music, art, or writing. It also applies to science, technology and life in general. What was “cutting edge” a few years ago has long been forgotten, replaced by new ideas and products from new wave thinkers and designers.

Waves are like that. There’s always another one on the way.

The writer of the blog questioned why there seemed to be more of these new creative voices today than ever before. While I was surprised he didn’t provide the simple answer I considered that this might have been his way of making me think about the question. The internet has provided a platform and for good or bad anyone can now publish their message. Everyone has a voice and everyone has something to say.

All you have to do is listen.

I’m pleased to be a part of this community and who knows…one of my books might just be the one to ride it to shore. Like Brian Wilson said…catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.

Unicorn

Within the shadows, without the light, unicorns prance while pan-pipes lay a bed of hushed harmony.  Fragile butterflies flutter between stone turrets resting only briefly amid rich ivy as they flit their way across sunlit castle walls.

Within the light, without the shadows, there is honesty and truth. It is called ‘reality’.

Some say it needs no creative process to survive. Simply put, all that is experienced is all that there is. There are no unicorns.

Between realms there lies a better world. A delicate blend of truth and dreams where fabled creatures, when called upon, may exist. A mixture of warm imagination and cold reality. Sprinkles of hope and guidance spiced with seasoned knowledge and understanding. Gently stirred and mixed yet somehow keeping separate the shadow and the light. This delicate blend of truth and fantasy…of realists and dreamers. Each needs what is unique to the other. Reality requires the elasticity of imagination to stretch boundaries and expand horizons. Creativity needs reality to temper dreams into possibility. Without the other, each suffer.

Where once they sailed the ocean blue, today they sail through darkened space, one daring to dream and one daring to try. Together they have reached the stars.

Reality lasts a lifetime.

Unicorns…forever.

Mike Grant is the author of three novels. “White Wolf Moon”, “Barking at Yesterday’s Moon”, and “Fergus”. Visit his Amazon page to find out more.

DIALOGUE or DIRE LOG?

Da way Oi sees it dat dire log gotta be true to dat guy speakin’ y’know?

After reading countless guides and articles I have come to realize that there are many differences of opinion when it comes to writing dialogue in an accent or dialect. I remember reading some of the respected names in literature back in school and their proficiency with the English language flew out the window when it came to some of their colloquial characters. Mark Twain is the first that comes to mind but I recall others who wrote of the Southern States in the 1800s where regional dialects were often thick and confusing.

Current wisdom appears to be that dialect should be kept to a minimum and a few experts have even suggested that you explain that the character speaks with an accent but the actual written dialogue should be presented in proper Queen’s English. I prefer the minimal approach.

In my current writing project I have a character that suffers speech issues due to an accident that damaged the Broca’s area of his brain. With this, and his outwardly awkward and backwoods appearance, he comes off as a bit of a buffoon but in reality is a well-read, philosophical and intelligent man. His overwhelming frustration of knowing what to say combined with the inability to communicate his thoughts accurately and concisely leads to other issues that I won’t get into here.

It probably took you close to five seconds of work to read the first line of this blog.

‘The way I see it the dialogue has to be true to the character’ is much easier and faster to read and that, I believe, is the secret.

The reader. It has to be easy for the reader to grasp the dialogue at a normal reading speed. Unusual spelling or made up words fight the flow of the experience to the point that reading becomes a bit of a chore. That’s the last thing we, as authors, should want.

Writing the voice for my main character has been the biggest trial. Invariably I start with far more complicated and scattered dialogue and keep paring it back until it moves along like those other voices, most of which speak pretty good English.

Here is a sample of the upcoming book:

Annalee reached across and took the book from his hands. “You read that as perfectly as anyone could Fergus. I’m impressed”

“So I passed?”

“With an A plus.”

“No big deal, it’s easy.” Fergus shrugged. “Don’t have to think on what I say ‘cos the book tellin’ me the words y’know? That whole thinkin’ thing is what mess me up sometimes, gettin’ ahead of myself an’ stuff. It comes to readin’ and I just gotta concentrate and say what the book says to say, thass all.”

Hopefully you found it easy to follow.

TIME TRAVEL & TRUTHS

“No…I wouldn’t want to go back. You can’t change just one thing, it’s all intertwined…one thing causes another and so on. Take away that first thing and a whole branch of your life tree could disappear and who knows where I’d have ended up. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you if I could’ve gone back and changed something.”

So says Danny in a deleted scene from my current manuscript. It is the obvious theory of time travel and actually makes a lot of sense.

Time travel is easy when writing a manuscript but the same theory applies. When I began this story I decided to keep writing as the ideas flowed and I’d go back and organize it later. At one point I was reading what I had written and decided one scene would work better in a later part of the story so I used a bit of fictional time travel and relocated it. It was only during what I hoped would be my final read-through that I realized what I had done.

As this is a sequel to “White Wolf Moon” I have to keep in mind the people that might not have read the original story so all the little “in” references have to be introduced. One of the major references was to the place that all the characters gathered on weekends simply called “The Ranch”. Using internal narrative I had Evan (the main character) reminisce about the pioneer property with an introductory description of the geography and the activities they had experienced back in the 60s. That narrative (and a few other mentions) was in the scene that I had moved. Anyone who hadn’t read “White Wolf Moon” would have had no idea what the characters were talking about in the current manuscript.

Another flaw in the time travel was a new character calling an original character by her first name. Their introduction was also in the scene that I had moved so there was no way he would have known this woman’s name as he hadn’t met her yet. That might work for a psychological horror story but not in mine.

Lack of continuity aside I’m surprised at the number of little things I’m finding that need to be tweaked or totally redone. It tends to make me wonder what kind of head space I was in when I wrote it.

Another topic, still in keeping with the fictional flow of this blog…truth on the internet. If I’m to believe everything I’ve read then Shania Twain has died not once but twice over the past few years; Michelle Obama is really a man; Sandy Hook was a Government plot to outlaw assault-type weapons (no children were harmed apparently, they were just “actors”); Malaysia Flight 370 was hijacked by ISIS and is buried in the sand in Syria awaiting another 911 fiasco; President Obama doesn’t know what a cattle guard is, and of course the re-occurring chestnut…Paul is dead.

What got me started on this was a post to a BC Wolf Hunt petition by a man named Bill Schoel whom I don’t mind mentioning because I apparently embarrassed him into hiding. He claimed that a “friend” of his had his dog killed by a pack of wolves that frequent downtown Kamloops, British Columbia. I’m not sure why he chose to name Kamloops as the setting for this piece of fiction but I’m glad he did. I have lived in the city for many years now and I don’t recall any wolf sightings…bears and cougars yes, but no wolves. I’m pretty sure a wolf pack patrolling downtown would make the news. I took him to task and he withdrew into wherever people like that go but not before he had multiple “likes” and confirming comments about his post. It is those people I question. Do they not check out these comments to ascertain the validity before jumping on the Fool Express? I find it amazing that in this easily accessed information age so many people are so misinformed. Perhaps they’re just lazy and would rather mindlessly buy into the flavor of the day than expend what minimal energy it takes to check the facts. Bill should have googled his ludicrous story prior to writing his comment and he wouldn’t look like an idiot trying to spread something that wasn’t true.

One comment I received was questioning whether I thought I was smarter than the rest of the world. My response was “It has nothing to do with being “smarter” it’s simply using your head and presenting verifiable facts (preferably with links). You don’t have to be a genius…just someone who wants to do a little digging and get it right before you comment.”

Alas I fear it’s easier to look the fool.

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A LITTLE VOICE TOLD ME I WAS WRONG….

My old desktop computer had a text-to-speech feature that I don’t have on the laptop I’m using now. I never used the feature anyway so I wasn’t concerned about upgrading or downloading it when I set up this computer. A few years ago I bought a home music studio program to record a few songs for my own entertainment. This program (Music Maker) has the text-to-speech option but other than trying some special effects on my music I didn’t use it…until now.

This morning I decided to put the first three pages of my new manuscript into the program. I listened while a pleasant, if not somewhat static, female voice read it to me. Aside from a few words that had double meanings (wind as an example) and mispronouncing both the main character’s names she did quite well. Keep in mind these are pages that I have gone through twice, checking for errors and flow, and I was prepared to sit back and just enjoy having someone read me the story.

This isn’t quite what happened.

First she found the missing word “a” in what I had written (“brief career as writer/singer”). That’s one of those things I had read over countless times and just read it as being there. Then the little lady found an ellipse that wasn’t and read it as “period, period, period” although I find it funny that she doesn’t read aloud the single periods or other punctuation. The non-ellipse, I believe, was the result of me switching the language on the keyboard, something that happens frequently although I’m not sure how I’m doing it. This became clear when she read “he’d” as “he-accent-dee”.

She also repeated a line and corrected my grammar by removing the “s” from a word. (“Evan had toured the exhibition of those ‘exciting new visions’ but had seen nothing of note in any of the pieces, most resembling his own failed attempts in Grade Nine art class. He guessed it must be an age thing. With so many years behind his eyes his ‘visions’ probably aren’t what they used to be.”) Out of context she was right…but the “s” stays.

I also found that when you hear sentences transferred to speech you pick up on clumsy wording and I’ve smoothed a few lines out that actually sounded fine in my head but not-so-fine out loud.

I’ve nearly finished tweaking the whole manuscript but I’m throwing another step into the process. Once done I’m going to find a quiet place, throw on the headphones, and let this charming computer lady read me the whole book and see if she finds anything else I’ve missed.

For those that have the Word (or any version of) text-to-speech I suggest giving it a try. It reads exactly what’s there and assumes nothing.

Writers today are fortunate. We have a wealth of wonderful computer tools to assist us with our passion. Text-to-speech has just been added to my list.

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ART, MUSIC, LIFE, RHYTHM…

How curious is Mother Nature. To create within a single world this multitude of perfectly shaped trees, flowers and grasses then simply toss them about with reckless abandon.

Rocks and boulders, each grained and weathered with intricate care are strewn helter-skelter across the landscape with little consideration of overall impression. Does she not understand the basic concepts of balance in form and texture, function and structure?

Or could this chaotic representation be the work of the quintessential artist?

It might be a still life with wind-swept grasses cascading down hills like waterfalls frozen in time, charred trees boldly standing as ancient sentinels on a field of muddied ash, a reminder of the fires of summer. Portraits of perfection posed before a scattered backdrop.

Is it abstract, impressionistic or a subtle blend of both? Simply put it is the finest example of interpretive natural art and it is how you see and feel it.

Nature may not always be perfect yet within these imperfections there lies a sense of purpose. Straight lines do not grace her masterpiece yet within her seemingly disheveled display there is order…and rhythm.

Everything natural exists for a reason and everything runs to a beat. It’s the cycle of life. Left to her own devices Mother Nature the artist becomes Mother Nature the composer, her natural sweet symphony the soundtrack of this world.

It is only when mankind chooses to ignore the rhythm that this symphony is silenced.

While Mother Nature is perfect in her imperfections mankind is simply imperfect, failing to understand how much a bit of harmony could improve life’s song for everyone and everything on this planet.

This not-so-veiled call for everyone to stop and think before we lose what we can’t replace was predicated by the BC wolf cull. I am almost ashamed to admit that I live in this province they call ‘beautiful’ on television ads and license plates. Public and scientific opposition to this ‘cull’ is massive yet the government doesn’t want to listen. Oddly enough the B.C. Ministry of Lands refuses comment on how many wolves have been ‘harvested’ and won’t provide a representative to explain the ‘science’ behind their decisions. My guess is…there is none.

Blaming predators (wolves in particular) is the cowardly way out. It’s easier to face a backlash from ‘tree-huggers’ than the wrath of forestry, ranching, and mining corporations. It’s easier to take to the air and gun down animals that are simply trying to survive in a wilderness growing smaller every day than impose restrictions on development, fracking, and overgrazing livestock. The caribou herds are in decline but for God’s sake’s let’s not suggest that man has had anything to do with it.

Okay, off my soapbox but on the same topic…

The Go Go’s had the beat, as do we all. Everyone has that certain song stuck in their head and that song goes a long way toward how we feel about our day. Regardless of religion, race, sex, or socio-economic lot in life…music is the common denominator. Happy music puts a spring in your step and makes everything just a little bit better. Those odd people, those skippers and shakers you see every day swaying along the sidewalk…you know the reason they’re odd don’t you? They’re marching to their own drum and while it may seem that some have their own damned orchestra it’s all part of the rhythm of life.

I’m on the first major tweak of the manuscript for my second book and never has the need for rhythm been so obvious. This book has been written in pieces over two years, which is my failing. These pieces didn’t necessarily follow each other during the writing and while the rhythm within each scene is strong the combination of scenes doesn’t flow as well as it should. It’s almost like this was a group effort, different people writing different parts of the same book. Readers need a beat whether in narrative or dialogue and while it’s not a major re-write it is a necessary step to smoothing the flow of the story.

It’s simple. I’ve just gotta stick with the beat and follow that rhythm in my head in writing…and in life.

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https://exposingthebiggame.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/captain-paul-watson-on-b-c-wolf-kill/

 

YEAH, I’M SIMPLE…SO WHAT?

“Evan likes the simpler stuff. Cheese is cheddar and coffee is coffee…none of that frothy crap they serve up these days. His idea of continental cuisine is cruising the drive-through in a Lincoln. He has no airs about him whatsoever when he’s on his own time.”

Okay so maybe I’m a bit more like Evan than I care to admit.

The idea for this blog came to me while I was cleaning a couple of my old smoking pipes from the Sixties. A pipe and a beaten pouch of tobacco was standard equipment for my group back then, the significance of which I’m just beginning to realize. There are a lot of memories surrounding those chunks of briar and just holding them brought back some simpler times.

The guys in my group used to have ‘boy time’ where we’d sit on a creaky derelict porch or rickety old steps with some wine or beer and a pipe-full (mostly legal puffinstuff I assure you Arlo). We’d talk about everything and nothing…and we’d laugh a lot. There was no problem that couldn’t be solved if we took the time to talk it through. Things seemed so much more innocent and easy back then but maybe it was just because we didn’t know any better. We respected each other’s opinion and respected each other. Our boy times were often short-lived as the girls in the group would usually crash our little party but it didn’t matter. They were each just one of the guys anyway…except they smelled better.

My grandson just completed a game on his new Playstation4…to the end…finished it! It took him less than a week. I watched some of his play and I couldn’t get by the graphics. It was like watching a video for crying out loud. I had to use the controller to sign him on and I was completely befuddled with all the buttons and toggles and…well you know where I’m going with this. He’s sixty years younger than me and can easily glide through various screens pressing three or four buttons at a time while providing a boisterous running commentary of “What the…” and “Take that sucker”.

Me? I still love my Atari 2600. Okay the graphics leave a lot to be desired but it’s a joystick and one button. There’s an alien space ship coming at me? I line up my cannon and press the red button then watch it explode into a multitude of square pixels and disappear off the edge of the screen. It’s my speed doncha know?

What has this to do with writing?

In the middle of editing some work last night my computer froze then shut down. It saved most of what I’d done to a backup file but not all of it. It’s not that big a deal really but it does remind me of why I still prefer hard copy and pencil. My pencil has never frozen on me…not once. It doesn’t require updates and the only virus it contracts is from an unexpected errant sneeze.

I’m also reminded of how NASA spent millions of dollars to create a pen that would function in zero-gravity while the Russians solved the problem by using, yup, a pencil.WRITEs

This past summer I spent a lot of time on my newly-built deck writing or editing and most of that time was spent clutching a little white golf club pencil. I don’t play golf and I’ve never heard of this golf club but somehow I ended up with their pencil. I suppose I could complicate my life and try to figure out how I obtained this little instrument but really…does it matter?

Life today isn’t simple. In my humble opinion all the stuff we’ve invented over the last few decades to make our daily lives less-complicated has done exactly the opposite. I believe it would serve us all well to occasionally peace out on a back porch with a little baccy and a glass of wine and watch the sunset. To simply appreciate the moment.

You might call that a pipe dream…and you’d be right.