Monthly Archives: April 2013

Blood On My Boots

I have seen a large quantity of unpleasant things in ten years of being a street cop, and it seems each year gets just a little bit worse. Some things, I find, roll off you with no more effect than rain on a window, while other incidents ride around in your head for the rest of your life, no matter how hard you try and forget.

I’ve spent a long, cold night guarding a burned up body, chasing away the rats that kept trying to eat it with my flashlight. I have pulled bloated, reeking bodies from the river, trying not to pop them as I worked extremely hard to breath through my mouth and not my nose. I have seen people murdered, maimed, shot, stabbed, beaten, stomped, run over by cars and stuck in wood chippers. I’ve lost count of how many uniform shirts I have had to throw away, and how many times I’ve scrubbed blood off my boots.

This past week was not my worst, but it was as bad as I’ve had in a year or more. There was a lot of blood, and a lot of grief.

And I think it’s the grief that affects me most.

The most troubling experience I’ve ever had involved a mother gripping my face and screaming, begging me for vengeance after I brought her news that her child had been murdered. I can tell you that is an old ghost that has ridden my shoulder and will not be banished.

While policing is my profession, storytelling is my craft, and whenever I do the former I am thinking about the latter.

What can I do with all these experiences, I ask myself? Can I make something constructive out of all this pain? Can I use my craft to make something out of the void that is left by all this suffering?

The answer? I think I might have it a little backwards.  I think it might not be so much that my job feeds my craft, but more likely that my craft allows me to be better at my job.

I had a good day today; I spent a large quantity of it with my wife, saw some of my dearest friends, and was able to stand in the clean air with the sun of my face. In the peaceful moments I was thinking on my writing path; where it is going, but also where it has been. And in thinking about this blog, I see that I’ve used it many, many times to shrug some weight off my shoulders. If it wasn’t for my ability to write, to dump emotions, and hopes, and fears, and worries out of my head and onto the page, I think I might be a bit of a raving lunatic by now.

I think for storytellers, writing is the most effective form of therapy. It helps us process the things we’ve seen, and impart to other people the lessons we’ve had to learn the hard way. It gives us a venue to live out dreams we might never acheive in our waking lives, and bring a little bit of happiness to people we would never otherwise meet. It allows me to hope that the things I’ve seen, the brains I’ve scraped off the bottom of my boot with a stick and the severed heads I’ve pulled out of the back seats of cars, will be transformed through one of my stories to touch someone else in a positive way.

Writing is a conduit: it allows us to change violence into joy, and hate into love.

So, as you go through your writing life, remember that the bad things you encounter might wind up as something powerful and effective in one of your stories. And the power of that tale might pull someone out of a bad place and set them right.

I’ve used this quote a dozen times, and I am unlikely to stop any time soon: “Your story might not matter to everyone, but it will matter, very much, to someone.” – Robert J. Sawyer

Try not to worry too much over the shit that rains down on you. You have the ability to turn it into something that doesn’t smell quite so bad.

Thanks for reading, and keep writing.

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A Writer in a Savage Land – Or, Very Small Victories

I recently had a very interesting experience; the folks at my publisher, Dark Dragon Publishing, were able to wrangle me a table for the weekend at Fan Expo Vancouver. Though there were some really cool things, I find myself still feeling a little disheveled, like a cat that has been rubbed backwards by an exuberant four-year-old.

On the first day a young man, wearing an extremely tight, shiny Green Lantern costume walked up to my table and picked up a copy of my book.

“What’s this?” he asked, frowning down at my novel.

“It’s a story about Mounties fighting evil in a small coastal town,” I said, happy that someone was actually talking to me.

“No,” he said, sneering at me like I was an idiot. “I mean, is this a book?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, starting to feel this conversation was not going to go well.

“I don’t read books,” he said with an exaggerated sniff while he tossed my story back on the table like it was a half-eaten twinkie. “They’re too archaic.”

It was at that moment that I learned two very important lessons: there is an extreme disconnect between me and the youth of today, and just because a costume zips up, doesn’t mean it fits.

Latex body suits are a privilege, not a right.

Let me continue by saying that I met some fantastic people while I was there. Frank, from Aspen Comics, (www.aspencomics.com), who started out as a small enterprise and has turned into a significant player in the comic book industry, took some time to give me a little advice on self-promotion and perseverance in the face of abysmal disappointment. Brad Middleton, author of “Undead TV”, was forced to sit beside me and put up with me and my horrible jokes for 2 days, and successfully refrained from beating me to death with a plastic chair. I also have to extend a huge thanks to the organizers of the event for letting an uneducated, unknown, uncouth goon into their midst to sling books for 2 days.

I also had some cool experiences while I was there; I saw some really cool costumes, had a couple of conversations with aspiring writers, and got close enough to Stan Lee to smell his cologne (I think it was Old Spice). But I’m not sure how enthusiastic I’d be about going to another comic book convention.

An event like this is a difficult venue for trying to pitch a novel. The folk who attended were there because they were hardcore fans of comic books – I mean, you’d have to be to line up for 3 hours to pay sixty dollars to get your picture taken with Stan Lee, or Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There was very little interest in a full length novel. For the 16 hours I was there, and the fifty-thousand-some-odd people that walked through the convention center, I sold 8 books. The guy sitting next to me sold 2. The poor bastard who was two rows over sold absolutely nothing – Not a Thing – the whole time he was there, and that seemed to be a fairly common theme among the other authors in attendance. I’m not pointing fingers here; it’s not the fault of the organizers or of the attendees. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t the right venue for an author.

I’ve heard that other such events have several panels and discussions for authors/storytellers. There wasn’t a place for that at Fan Expo Vancouver, and it seemed more geared towards giving comic book fans access to their favorite celebrities, or for comic book vendors to sell their wares.

My interest is more directed at the craft of storytelling, regardless of how many books I sell, and there wasn’t much opportunity for that. I did have one awesome conversation with a poet named Sher, who was looking for some pointers on writing horror fiction, but that was the total extent of the craft that was discussed.

As I sit writing this, I guess I really do have to count the event as a win. I reached 8 new readers, who are going to take a ride through my story and hopefully draw something from it. I got to help out a fledgling storyteller (even more fledgling than I am, which is saying something), and hopefully give her a little encouragement as she starts her own journey towards finding her voice as a writer.

The more I think about it, the more positive I grow. No, it was not a huge success, but this writing life is about tiny steps and small victories. It’s about finishing one story, selling one book, reaching one person. There aren’t huge leaps and bounds, but there is definite movement, and as long I’m writing, it’ll movement in the right direction.

Now, let’s carry on. There are lost young men, in latex Green Lantern outfits, that desperately need our help.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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It’s Only Escapism

“Pfft, it’s only mindless escapism,” is a phrase most often heard uttered from the bearded chins of stuffy men in tweed jackets with elbow patches, or perhaps by young men sitting in large chain coffee shops, wearing horn rimmed glasses while they clack away at an old manual type writer, claiming to be “indie” while they grip a Starbucks cup and text their ironic friends on an iPhone.

This is also a phrase that fills me with an overwhelming urge to push someone – someone possibly wearing horn-rimmed glasses – down the nearest set of stairs.

The term “escapism” is often tossed about, in a deeply negative connotation, in reference to most genre fiction. The reference seems to be intended to make anyone who reads genre fiction feel stupid, as it is not high-brow “literary fiction”.

The thing I find so utterly stupid about comments like this is that any story, no matter what genre it’s in, is supposed to draw you in, make you feel the character, cause you to experience their lives. So every story, if it’s any good, is a form of escapism.

Are literary fiction aficionados saying that you cannot get drawn into one of their stories? That sounds to me like an admission their stories suck.

Truth be told, I find most “literary fiction” boring as hell and I’m completely baffled that anyone reads that shit – which is exactly what some people say about my novel, because we all know that men in tweed jackets don’t like stories about Mounties fighting Demons.

One of the best books I’ve read in the last year is “A Place Called Armageddon”, by CC Humphreys, who writes primarily historical fiction. When reading his story the characters were so clear to me, and the scenery so vivid, that I felt as though I stopped reading the story and started seeing it. Is this escapism? Damn right! You wanna know what else it is? A damned fine story, and one hell of a good time.

The wonderful thing about a good story is that there are no borders and no limits. There is no form that a story is required to fit, no dimensions that it cannot exceed, no stupid little box that it has to be crammed in. The storyteller can make his tale into anything he wants, and the reader is free to dive into it and interpret it any way that makes him happy.

I think providing your reader with a bit of escapism while they read your work is something you should aspire to, not be afraid to be judged for.

Now, tell me a story and take me for a good ride, it’s been a shitty week.

Thanks for reading.

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Good Men in a Bad Time

Most young men are pricks. Swaggering, angry, ill-tempered, ill-mannered, rude little pricks.

As a young man (well, young-ish) I feel entitled to make this statement.

As I was leaving the locker-room of my gym yesterday I overheard two young men (younger than me by more than a few years) having a boisterous conversation about the muffins they stole from the school cafeteria, the weed they smoked that got them “dude…high as fuck!”, and what they would do to the girl at the front counter of the gym if they were able to get her alone for 5 minutes. I introduced myself, told them thievery, drug trafficking and possible sexual assault were not appropriate topics of conversation for a public venue (especially while standing in front of a cop), and left them a little pale, and a little worried.

When I was young I, too, was boisterous, filled with bravado, and walked around with my chest puffed out a little more than was wise. But if my old man had caught me talking like that in any place, public or private, he’d have waited until I was asleep (since I was bigger than him by the time I was 16), and then beat me with a pillowcase filled with bricks. I learned at a young age not to swear at people, to hold the door open for old ladies, and to stop and lend a hand when you saw someone with a flat tire. People don’t do that anymore.

I have to ask myself, where do these young men get the impression that what they are doing is acceptable? Who has taught them to act like this?

As I look around I find myself in a world where there are plenty of role models, all slapped up on billboards, television, the internet and any other medium that popular media can cram a picture onto. But all these role models are bad. The people most glorified are the ones who make the biggest asses of themselves, and win fame through behaving at their absolute worst.

I’ve ranted before about reality television, but it seems even the fictional characters are bad. There has been a lot of discussion in the literary world recently about the “Grim-dark” genre of fantasy, where the world is basically an awful place and everyone, even if they’re good, has to be just as awful to survive.

Television is filled with Grim-Dark characters; Shows like “Breaking Bad”, “The Sopranos”, “Sons of Anarchy”, “Mad Men” and several other titles make heroes of people who are often sneaks, cheats, drunks, drug dealers and ruthless killers – even if they are killing for the “Right Reasons”. As entertaining as all these shows are, and I watch them just as much as anyone, I have to ask if there is anything positive to be gained from them?

And, as I think about it, I must say yes, yes there is.

One thing we know, from sales statistics and surveys, is that the majority of books are purchased and consumed by female readers, and I’m not just talking about titles like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight”, I mean everything. 

As I’ve said before, I think it is through story that our life lessons are imparted upon us. It is through our individual processing of the stories we are told, read and watch that we build the foundation of the people we want to be.

So, what is the benefit of stories about horrible people doing things, you ask me? There are two main positives for Grim-Dark stories.

First: they draw the attention of these young men, which causes them to actually read a book, or more often to pay attention to something that isn’t “Jersey Shore”. This, I think, is vitally important. Young people, and young men especially, don’t read enough. If you ask the average high school student to read something out loud to you you’re likely to get a lot of stuttering and the sounding out of any words that contain more than one syllable. If stories that involve a lot of stabbing and several graphic sex scenes are what it takes to get a kid to start reading, then by the fuck bring ‘em on!

Second: Because Grim-Dark stories are so bleak, any altruistic act of goodness, or even simple kindness, really stands out. It is a big deal to the reader because the author makes it a big deal in the context of the story. If a good deed is such an attention getter in a dark story, then hopefully the person reading it will learn a bit of a lesson.

A fairly significant quantity of the stories I read when I was a kid, and even what I read now, involved good for good’s sake. The protagonist is on a quest to set the world right, because that is what he ought to do; it is not a simple matter of survival, but something he feels compelled to do because of his innate nature. These are the stories I like to read, and they’re also the kind of stories I like to write.

Is this kind of behaviour unrealistic? Well it certainly seems to be in the world we live in now.

During the course of my “day job” I see constant examples of how the world is going for an absolute shit, but I was warned by my best friend’s old man when I joined the Force 10 years ago: “The only time good people need the police is when something bad happens to them”, and truer words were never spoken. So, perhaps because of my work experience my view is a little skewed, but I really worry about future generations, and how absolutely awful some people can be. Or, perhaps even worse, how much people don’t care about anything but themselves.

Can the answer to the world’s problems all be solved with a few good stories? While I would like to think so, I’m a little doubtful. But it seems like there is nothing to guide young people, young men specifically, when it comes to the way they ought to behave, and if one good story can steer one young man in the right direction, then I say it’s worth writing no matter what genre it’s in.

Where ever you are reading this, I hope you’re surrounded by people who don’t suck.

Let me know if you have any ideas, and thanks for reading.

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Inching Forward

Something I’ve learned about the writing life, is that you always want to be moving forward; you always want to be writing, reading and building your craft. If you’re completely still, meaning you’re not doing any writing of any kind, you’re in a bad place.

Sometimes, that movement forward is a mad dash. You’re cranking out pages, you’re getting attention, you’re coming up with new (and sometimes even good) ideas all the time. Sometimes that movement is slow and you’re just getting down a bare smattering of words and forgetting anything you come up with that might be cool. No matter how much work you produce, you can never become complacent and allow yourself to be still.

This is a failure of your craft. This means you are no longer a writer.

At the beginning of the year a set a number of goals for myself. As we are now one quarter of the way through the year I took a few moments to re-examine those goals, and realize I have failed to achieve any of them.

I have plenty of excuses, and some of them are even valid: I’ve had two people, both extremely dear to me, become horribly ill. One of them will recover, and the other, it seems, will not. I crashed my little blue car (Oh! How I loved that car!), and spent a week off work with a concussion. I had a man break into my house while I was sleeping in my bed and steal my piece of mind.

Each of these excuses is valid, but none of them really gives me justification for ceasing my writing, or spending my free time sitting on the couch playing a game I affectionately refer to as “Battle Turtle” on my phone. It’s up to me, as a storyteller, to turn these events into grist for my writing mill, as I’ve discussed before.

Recently, I’ve had some forward movement in my writing life, and it has had a profound effect on my motivation: the folks at Dark Dragon Publishing have gotten me into a Canadian Crime anthology, which will contain two of my short stories; very few copies of my book have sold recently (and by very few I mean, like, five), but I’ve been getting good reviews/feedback from the people who have read it; I haven’t completed the sequel to “The Watch”, but I’ve put some miles on it, along with a new and exciting (well, to me, anyway) project, as well as a couple of short stories that are shaping up nicely.

None of these things is earth moving in and of itself, but taken together they seem significant. As a whole they mean I’m building my craft – my career, if you want to call it that – and reaching more people with my writing, which is really what this is all about.

Or, at least it should be.

Yes, it would be nice if we could all be Patrick Rothfuss and sell a ga-gillion copies of our first book and be able to buy second houses just to write in. But if you ask Mr Rothfuss if he was an “overnight success” I think he’d be likely to beat you to death with his beard, because it took him something like 7 years to write “The Name of the Wind”. That does not sound “overnight” to me.

As a storyteller if you stop working you quickly become stale. You have to keep writing, keep producing words, and work to make them better than the last batch. I guarantee you that not one of those words will be wasted (for example, the two stories that are going into the anthology were written previously, and just happened to fit the theme. The only work to be done was to attach them to an email and send them off).

To roughly quote Robert J Sawyer, if you write a story there is no guarantee that anyone will read it. But if you don’t write that story, you can be absolutely certain that no one will read it. So keep moving forward, even if it’s only an inch at a time; you’ll get there eventually.

Good luck, and keep writing.

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