Monthly Archives: May 2013

Pictures in your Wallet

When I was going through highschool, it was a badge of honor to have a picture of your girlfriend in your wallet. (Dude, you’ve got a chick who actually talks to you? Well done!) 

When my daughter was born, it was the duty of a father to carry pictures of your kid with you everywhere you went – generally, in your wallet. (Dude, your kid is no where near as ugly as you. Well done!)

A friend of mine recently had a baby, and when I asked to see pictures he hauled out his phone.

My, how the world has changed.

In the world’s natural evolution, it seems that carrying things around has become archaic. Glossy pictures of your kids have been replaced by images on your phone. Hand-written letters from friends have been replaced by emails. Tattered, well loved, paperback books have been replaced by e-readers.

Of the above the thing that I find the most depressing is the loss of actual posted letters. When I was going through Depot (RCMP training academy) an old friend of mine sent me a letter in the mail, as a gag, complete with a picture of herself, and a healthy dose of perfume. It brought me a laugh and gave me a bit of peace in a fairly stressful stretch of time.

All of the paper things that used to mean so much to us have gone by the way-side. And one of the reasons I think they are a loss is because they no longer represent a tactile, human connect to the source from whence they came – the letters, especially.

The convenience of electronics has usurped the connection of paper, but I have to ask myself if this is a bad thing.

While I dearly love the feel, sentiment and connection behind a hand-written letter, they are not exactly convenient. My hand-writing looks like a drunken caterpillar danced across the page, stamps are expensive, and going to the post office is a pain in the ass. Emails on the other hand, are easy; I can type about 75 words a minute, so I can get a lot of thoughts down – a lot of love to my friends – in the space of about 5 minutes, and then have the message before them instantly. It makes it a lot easier to communicate with people, and ease of use means frequency of use. Frequency of use means a little more love and well-wishes to make your day a little better. This is a good thing.

I am a book purist; I don’t own a dedicated e-reader, and I won’t get one. I spend a large quantity of my life staring at words on a computer screen, and when I come home and sit down to read I prefer the soft light of a good lamp, and the feel of a book in my hand. That does not mean that I hate e-readers, in fact quite the opposite.

Being with a small publishing house, the print runs for the books are small and the books cost money to have them printed, so they have to be sold for a minimum amount of money so my publisher doesn’t have to feed her family dog food. But the e-books are inexpensive to publish, and equally inexpensive to sell – that means they get into the hands of more readers. This is a good thing.

There will always be space, and necessity, for the hardcopy, paper things in life, but I don’t think we should bemoan the progress of the electronic form.

Does the message in an email become invalid because it’s electronic instead of paper? I don’t think so.

Is a story less vivid because it’s read on a kindle instead of between two hard covers? No, don’t be silly. A story that scares the shit out of you or makes you laugh your ass off is still made up of the same words, no matter what medium you use to experience it.

Does a picture look duller because it’s on a phone instead of out of your wallet? Actually, it probably looks better.

The world is in a pretty deep state of flux, and no one really knows – especially with the publishing industry – what this is going to mean. But that doesn’t mean your letters shouldn’t be sent, or your story shouldn’t be written. It’s gonna be loved by someone, so you need to put it (them) out there.

Now, get busy. Some kid just got an e-reader for his birthday and needs a good story to teach him something.

As always, thanks for reading.

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“Stop Molesting Twitter; It Never Did Anything to You.”

The hardest part of writing a story, beyond the actual craft of it, is trying to get it into the hands of an audience. Being published with a small house, and having no budget for advertising, I can appreciate this as well as anyone.

Social media is one of the best ways to self-advertise, especially since it’s free. But, you can overdo a good thing. Or, in the case of some people, you can flog the bejesus out of it until you infuriate everyone you come in contact with, motivating them to pray for your untimely death.

When it comes to self promotion, there is a fine line between being informative, and being annoying. No, that’s a lie; the line is huge, pulsating and obvious. If you’re throwing out the release of a new novel, or perhaps an appearance or reading to people who know you, like you, follow you, or might want to read your stuff, that is cool. I dig it when authors I like announce the release date of their new work so I can go and pick up a copy.

On the other hand, if you stalk people on twitter, like a half-starving stray dog, and bombard them with messages about how awesome your latest book is, you will probably be thought a little annoying.

In fact, I’m annoyed right now. Can you tell?

A friend of mine, kc dyer, recently solicited opinions on twitter of what people wanted to see in posts. My answer was simple: I want to be entertained, inspired or educated. I’ve always found that if someone engages my interest through either making me think, making me want to write, or making me laugh my ass off, I will be motivated to move beyond their twitter feed, facebook page, or blog posts and spend my money on their published work.

Alternately, if someone posts the same review of their bloody book thirty-seven times in the space of three hours I actually begin fantasizing about learning their home address and leaving a burning bag of dog shit on their porch. Why? Because that is what they are doing to my twitter feed: covering it in shit, lighting it on fire, and making it stink.

There is nothing that will alienate people – your potential readers – faster than pissing them off. And nothing pisses people off more than being eye-raped by stupid posts saying “OH MY GOD, BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK!!! WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!?!”

As one of my friends used to tell me growing up: Desperation is a stinky cologne.

So, please, tell me about your story, cause it might be awesome, and I might want to read it. But, please, for the suffering love of anything holy, stop molesting twitter; it didn’t do anything to you.

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It Depends

I am a man who likes concrete answers. I like to know exactly what I am supposed to do in any given situation.

I have found, lately, that every answer can shift and every rule has an exception.

This past week I was fortunate enough to be on a two day search warrant course. The syllabus was fairly open, leaving a lot of time for discussion – which really means, time for me to pester the bejesus out of the instructors, all of whom are friends of mine.

I’ve been doing this job for nearly 10 years, so I know that every law is open to interpretation, and it was made even more apparent during the discussion time in this course. Every time I would try and pin the instructors down to an answer, they would slip out from beneath it and say “it depends.” Over the two days it became such a comical game, that the instructors would give an answer of “it depends” just to see me lose my shit.

At the end of the course my friend, Erica, who worked with me as a baby constable, what seems like a thousand years ago, asked me, “Are you going to go write a blog post called ‘it depends’?”

At the time, I laughed it off. But as the last few days have gone by, I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot.

Writing a story, I’ve been thinking, is a lot like interpreting the law: There are a lot of hard and fast rules, things that have been sacrosanct for eons, but there is always an exception.

When I first started really working on this craft, Jack Whyte said in a class at the Surrey Writer’s conference, “You have to learn the rules of writing, and then you have to learn to break them.” The further I have gone along, the more I have discovered this is true.

People will tell you that no one wants to read a book about a teenage wizard, until J.K. Rowling sells a ga-gillion copies. Agents and Editors will tell you not to write a book about vampires, until Stephanie Meyers did it and became a household name (hated in some households, for certain). Hell, people will insist you use proper punctuation in your dialogue, and then Cormac McCarthy (whose real name is Charles) wrote “The Road”, with not a quotation mark to be seen.

Every standard expecation has an exception, and every rule can be broken. It becomes a matter of craft, a sign of your growth and experience, that you can work with those hard and fast rules until they become soft and malleable in your hands, and easily bent to your will.

This isn’t going to happen overnight, or even over the next year. I’ve been working my ass off at this craft for the last 7 years, and I’ve still got a fuck of a long way to go. But as you move forward you’re going to get better. You’ll be able to see for yourself that your writing has improved, and the ability to break those rules will come.

You just cannot give up.

Thanks for reading, and keep writing.

 

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