Wednesday, August 9, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author JB Reynolds


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Today in my ongoing series of author interviews I'm chatting with JB Reynolds. Reynolds has several excellent stories available (check out Amazon or his website). I've read a couple of them and was quite pleased, he has an easy but poetic style that really sucks you in. He's especially good at making unpalatable things seem sympathetic or even enjoyable. I highly recommend his "Art of Cigarette Smoking." If he can make cigarettes seem inviting, you know he has a gift!

THE AUTHOR!

J.B. Reynolds lives in rural Northland, New Zealand, where he raises children and chickens. He writes humorous short fiction, where tragedy meets comedy and character reigns supreme. His first short story was published while he was a university student, and in between that and a return to serious writing in 2016, he has worked as a graphic designer, landscaper, ski and snowboard technician, librarian, apple picker, and baker of muffins and teacakes.

Nowadays, when not writing, he’s a husband, father, and high school teacher (not necessarily in that order). He enjoys sailing, cycling, and playing music, really loud, when his wife and kids aren’t at home. He has a big garden, where he likes to get his fingernails dirty, and he loves to eat the things that grow in it.

He is currently working on his Crossing The Divide short story series. The stories in the series feature different characters and switch between locations in New Zealand and Australia, but they are all, in a way, coming of age stories and are linked through the theme of relationships.

THE INTERVIEW!

From what I've read of your work, I can't easily place it in any single genre like "mystery" or "romance." What do you call your genre and what drew you to write in it?
I’ve struggled a little to even define the genre for the short stories I’m writing at the moment. I guess it’s humorous contemporary fiction. In some ways, they are coming-of-age stories, but with characters in their late teens and early twenties rather than adolescents. I’m writing in this genre because these were the ideas I had in my head that were the most developed. They’re also stories that have arisen out of my own life experience. Once I’ve finished this series, I have some ideas for short stories that are more fantastical, and I have an idea for a fantasy novel that I’ll get to after that. My reading preferences tend towards sci-fi and fantasy, and that’s where I want to head with my writing.

We all love some good fantasy and sci-fi. Which writers inspire you?
I love the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut and Will Self. Vonnegut is the short story master and has some great tips on writing short stories that I always try to keep in mind when I’m writing them. Will Self is both disturbing and hilarious, and a much better short story writer than novelist, in my opinion. His Grey Area and The Quantum Theory of Insanity short story collections are brilliant. My favourite novelists are Iain M. Banks, because of the grand scope of his imagination; Terry Pratchett, because he manages to be both profoundly silly and profoundly serious at the same time; and Paul Auster, because his storytelling seems so graceful and elegant and effortless. I’m sure it isn’t; he probably sweats blood like most other writers, but that’s how it reads on the page. But I think the writer who most inspired me to write was Hunter S. Thompson. His passion for what he does just blazes out of the page. There was a point in my life when I wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson, but I didn’t have the balls.

Few of us have the balls to trip balls like he did. 

Change of topic, but this one is always a hot button with independent authors: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Absolutely! And the great thing about ebooks is that you can change them. I trained as a graphic designer so I’ve done my own, but you can always improve things.  I’ve changed mine three times, so far. To be honest, I’m not the world’s greatest graphic designer and the first two iterations were a bit shit. It’s only after round three that I’ve got something I’m happy with. I’d like to employ an artist to do some drawings for me for future covers as my drawing skills aren’t up to the required standard, especially for sci-fi and fantasy, which is where I want to go with my writing.

For what it's worth I quite like your covers. Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time. Full time is the long-term goal, but currently I get an hour or so every morning to write during the week, a little more in the weekends. Since I started this routine in January of 2016, it’s been life-changing, and I’m much happier for it. It’s slow going, but every little bit helps. This year, I’ve gone down to four days a week at work, and I’m going to spend that one day a week I have without children to look after doing some writing, but also trying to get the bulk of my marketing and admin tasks done.

I feel your pain about juggling kids and work, but building a routine helps tremendously. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
The long term goal is exactly that; to make a career out of it. I want to be successful enough to do it full-time and pay the bills with the money I earn from it. The short and medium term goals are to write more books and grow my audience.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bang On (#IWSG August 2017)


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Well that sucked.



A couple of months ago I talked about how I submitted my book, Ten Thousand Days, to a self-published novel competition. I mentioned that it was some pretty stiff competition (300 entries, many of them by successful, established authors), and that the judging was pretty loose, as the reviewers involved all had very different tastes and were not even required to read all the books, but just to give them a reasonable chance to catch their interest before culling them from the pile.

I knew I wasn't going to win. I knew I wasn't even even going to be a finalist (again, the competition was very, very strong), but I thought at the very least I would get a little exposure and a half-decent review from a notable fantasy review site that I could use in future marketing. I know I'm not a stellar writer by any means, but I don't think I'm the worst, either. I figured I would be eliminated (in my category) without fanfare in the middle of the pack.

You could say I was somewhat floored when I awoke last Monday to discover Ten Thousand Days had been the very first book eliminated.


For context, Ten Thousand Days was cut before the book that was so poorly rewritten the reviewer couldn't get past a few pages. Before the book that had been disqualified for technically being ineligible for the competition. My book was the first one at the top of the list.

Needless to say I was supremely disappointed, completely beside myself. I knew I wasn't going to win, but what could I have done so wrong to be brushed off so quickly?

It would seem the reviewer took offence to an off-handed joke on page 5 and didn't read any further. She thought it was inappropriate and turned her off from the story. Sure it wasn't a great joke, but I never dreamed anyone would take offence to it. It's not even as bad as stuff you hear on prime-time sit-coms. But what can I do? Those are the breaks when you submit your books to reviewers, agents, publishers - you're at the whims of their tastes, and frustrating as it may be that's what you sign up for. Writing is a very subjective thing, everyone likes different stuff and you can't change that.


I'm downplaying it now since I have some distance and perspective, but I will admit I was really upset when it first happened. I've gotten tons of rejections lately but this one really stung, probably because of how public it was (parts of the review were shared on Facebook and Goodreads). I refrained from writing about it right away because I was angry and didn't want to say something I would regret. A few days ago I wrote my first draft of this post but then deleted half of it, because it went into details that I didn't want to dwell on.

I'm trying to let it go. I realized that yes, I might feel like I was treated unfairly, but do you know who else gets treated unfairly? Everyone. Some a lot more than others. (Like, a lot, but I'm not going to go into that now.) I asked for this. I knew what I was getting into, and I can't blame a reviewer for their opinion, tastes or perspective. It's disappointing, but it is what it is.


So yeah, I'm trying to acknowledge my feelings and accept them as valid, but also move on because it's not helpful to dwell on such miserable things. And ranting and raving will only lead to the Dark Side (of the Internet). I'm trying to find lessons from the exercise for the next time. Developing a thicker skin is certainly one. Finding markets for people who will better get my work is another.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

#


The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group at http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.


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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author and Blogger Trin Carl


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Today I do a sit-down interview with Trin Carl, a writer and prolific blogger and book reviewer from Minnesota.


THE INTERVIEW!

I know you are working on your book, a YA novella called "O Brother." Do you find feedback from online writers’ critique forums helpful in your writing?
Online critiquers are especially helpful.  To receive such immediate feedback from writers on websites like Scribophile has helped me so much.  Sometimes in person critique groups can be intimidating for beginning writers so meeting writers in an online setting has its potential.  I suppose it can be compared to introverts finding their love on an online site like match.com.

My regular readers know I have some unusual writing habits, and I understand you do, too. What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of writing in varied environments vs. writing in the same environment everyday?  
I never write from home.  I feel home is a place you hang your hat but it’s also filled with distractions.  I like to write away from home so that I feel like I’m truly at work and where my ideas flourish.

That's a great way to look at it. Every writer has different techniques and processes. If you could talk to any famous writer, what would you say?  
I would ask the writer about their routines, their motivation.  I would ask them about those secrets in a novel that remain mysterious yet amazing.  Let’s say for instance I had a sit down with Donna Tartt, I would really want to know how she found the time and energy to write such long beautiful narratives.  My writing tends to swing towards the shorter novella so I would really like to know how she works out her outlines to draw out the story.

You review a number of books on your blog. What do you look for in a book? Do you have any advice for readers?
Readers rarely get posed this question.  But I think it’s important to address the reader.  Therefore: Reader what are you looking for when you pick up a book?  Is it for time pass?  Is it because someone told you to read it?  What makes you reading a book so special?

What about other kinds of entertainment? What is your favorite movie?
 I loved the movie Kite Runner.  I would love to have a son like the character of Hassan. Someone who is so genuine and forgiving and humble.  Hassan’s character is a devoted servant and loyal friend to his brother Amir.  Hassan eventually dies to the hands of the Taliban, in Afghanistan for defending his father’s house from takeover.  


THE AUTHOR!

Trin Carl writes YA and Contemporary fiction.  She enjoys dance and writing her two blogs50schoolsn90days and theglobaldig.blogspot.com. From Minnesota, Trin enjoys the outdoors and all the seasons, especially the fall as it reminds her of her days teaching and attending school at Metropolitan State University.  She can be contacted on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.com/trincarl

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

STRANGELY FUNNY IV Release! (#IWSG July 2017)


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IWSG Day! It came at a perfect time, since last week was absolute shit for me personally, but I'll spare you the details of that.

The one bright spot was that I found out STRANGELY FUNNY IV, the anthology featuring my short story, was released on Monday! I've been waiting months for this, and it's finally a reality!

Behold, the appropriately weird cover:


Yes, the cover depicts zombies playing basketball with skulls. Possibly their own heads. It's the kind vibe that this humourous supernatural/horror anthology is going for.

The story I contributed is called "Save or Die." It's a comic fantasy in the vein of my "Werebear vs Landopus" stories, but it's way less obscene. It's like a PG-13 Grimdork. If you're into self-aware comic fantasy and roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, you'll probably appreciate my story. I received a proof copy of the book and everything I've read so far is pretty great.

I was absolutely stunned earlier this year when my story was accepted, not only because it was the first real acceptance I've received for one of my submissions, but it was the very first time I submitted that particular story anywhere. To compare, I've had another story (one I personally thought was better) rejected 12 times already this year. I guess with "Save or Die" I just had the right piece for the right market at the right time.

Strangely Funny IV is edited by Sarah E. Glenn and published by Mystery and Horror, LLC. You can check it out here.

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IWSG Question for July:
What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

Ideas are worth shit.

Everyone has ideas. Many of them suck, some of them are fabulous, but until you actually make something out of them, they're worthless. A finished story is worth thousands of good ideas.

How many people out there say they have great ideas for books but have just never gotten around to writing it? Or have half-finished manuscripts they've been working on for years? I was there for a long time myself, and I always felt crappy about it.

I didn't feel better until I actually finished my first book and got it out there. Sure, it's not setting the world on fire, but just the act of finishing it and putting it out there into the world is a tremendously satisfying accomplishment. That alone puts me ahead of many people, and it's an achievement I really don't stop to appreciate often enough.

So I'm going to stop and appreciate it today. I need every victory I can get.

Get out there and make your ideas into something real. You'll feel way better once you do.



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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group at http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Real Origins of Canada


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This Saturday, July 1st, is the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation (it's also the 101st anniversary of another important Canadian event you can read about here). It is not the anniversary of Canada's independence, nor is the date of the founding of the country. And it's certainly not the beginning of people living here. No, that goes back way, way farther than 150 measly years ago.

The history of Canada begins with the arrival of the first nomadic aboriginal peoples somewhere between 50,000 and 17,000 years ago to the Northern extremes of the Alaska and the Yukon. They were unable to move any further south due to glacial ice. By 16,000 years ago, the ice had receded enough that these Paleo-Indian people were able to migrate further south and populate the continent. Most of them continued their hunter-gatherer ways, but a few settled down to more permanent communities. For example, a recently-discovered site on the Haida Gwaii islands (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia may be the oldest inhabited site in Canada. Ruins found off the coast indicate that people lived there at least 13,700 years ago.


Even more incredibly, nearly fourteen millennia later, the Haida people still live there.

Well, sort of. We'll get there, but as usual with these stories, it's going to get pretty bleak.

The islands of the Haida Gwaii archipelago were much larger thousands of years ago, which explains why the ruins are currently underwater. It was also probably attached to the mainland, which explains how the Haida ended up there in the first place. The ancestors of the Haida were the Koryaks, a nomadic people who originated in Russia and traveled across the Bering straight during the last ice age. The Koryaks practiced a form of Raven animism that evolved into spiritual practices still followed by the Haida today. The Haida also developed their own distinct language as well as a complex class system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens. Links and diversity were gained through marriage between the clans. This system was also important for the transfer of wealth within the Nation, as the two clans were reliant on each other for the building of longhouses, totem poles and other items of cultural importance.

Haida long houses and totem poles, circa 1878.

The Haida were a seafaring, matriarchal society. Their nation comprised some 100 villages in the Islands and were noted traders, developing trade routes with other First Nation tribes on the mainland as far south as California.

First contact with Europeans came in the 1770s, and as usual ruined everything. Haida Gwaii became an important part of the fur trade and the gold rush through the 18th and 19th centuries, and its "ownership" was disputed between the British and America. The Haida seemed to put little stock in these European claims, however, and like most First Nations alternated between helping and hindering the Colonials. The Haida were not to be trifled with at sea, though, and sunk or captured numerous European ships during this time. It was searching for the wreck of one of these ships that scientists discovered the ancient Haida site I previously mentioned.

The remains of a 2,500 year-old stone and wood fish weir (a sort of fish trap).

The Haida Gwaii islands themselves have been called by some the "Galapagos of the North," due to its unique climate and terrain. Thanks to its isolation from the mainland and favourable coastal winds, it has developed a distinct biocultural zone with many endemic (unique) plants and animals, including subspecies of black bears, otters and bats, as well as the Nootka cypress, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce not seen on the mainland.

One famous sitka-spruce in particular was the Kiidk'yaas ("Ancient Tree" in the Haida language, or the Golden Spruce), a one-of-a-kind 300-year-old spruce with a rare genetic mutation - a lack of chlorophyll in the tree's branches caused it to take on a striking yellow-gold colour. According to Haida mythology the Kiidk'yaas came about when a young boy disrespected nature and caused a terrible storm to descend on his village. When he and his grandfather fled the village, the grandfather warned the boy not to look back. The boy disobeyed, and was immediately turned into the Golden Spruce where he stood. The Haida people said the tree would stand to be admired until the last generation.

Kiidk'yaas was cut down by an unemployed engineer, Grant Hadwin, as a protest against illegal logging in 1997 (see, I told you we ruin everything). Hadwin was arrested and released on bail, then disappeared while trying to paddle his kayak 100 kilometres to the mainland in the dead of winter. The remains of his kayak were discovered later that year, though Hadwin was never seen again. I'd like to think that Mother Nature meted out her own revenge.

At the time of Colonial contact, the population of the islands was about 30,000. In the 1800s, 90% of the population was killed off by small box and other European diseases, so that by 1900 only 350 Haida people remained. Today the population of the islands now sits at 4500, with 45% identifying as Haida. Of their unique language, only 50 speakers are known to remain, and all are over 70 years old. Though efforts continue to be made to preserve their culture, in 2006 UNESCO named some of the islands as historic sites, and referenced the Haida as a "vanished" people.

Of course, Canada hasn't completely ignored the very first people of these lands. They may not always treat them well, but at least they don't pretend they don't exist. Usually. The artwork on the back of the old Canadian $20 bill (the one before our current plastic space money) actually featured artwork by a Haida artist, Bill Reid. The image on the far left is of Raven and the First Men (which is actually pretty cool so I'll blow that up below), and the prominent image on the right is Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a massive bronze sculpture that sits outside the Canadian embassy in Washington DC. The background also depicts traditional Haida imagery.



All that is pretty cool, except that the imagery was changed with the advent of the new bank note series in 2012. Now the $20 bill depicts the Vimy Ridge Memorial, which is an important event to remember, but it's also a memorial to white people fighting other white people in another country. 

Anyway, Haida Gwaii remains an amazing and fascinating piece of Canadian history, as well as an unprecedented link to the past. It is a popular tourist site for both these reasons as well as its unique natural environment. It is a definitely a place we should strive to protect, learn from, and if we can, visit to experience it ourselves. Especially before it gets sucked into the Pacific by an earthquake.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Good Ol'-Fashioned Saturday Night Wrasslin'


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Hey it's time for my monthly pro-wrestling post that no one is going to read! ☺

This past Saturday I headed down to the local Knights of Columbus hall with my father-in-law to check out our local indy wrestling promotion, Capital City Championship Combat (C*4 for short). It was a night of laughs, thrills, poutine and watching athletic young men try to kill themselves for the enjoyment of a handful of people.

Now, those of you with limited knowledge of pro-wrestling have likely heard of World Wrestling Entertainment, also known simply as WWE, and formerly the World Wrestling Federation (which was changed to avoid confusing all those poor pandas).

Any excuse I can find to use this image.

What you may not know is that not all pro-wrestlers compete for this huge, billion-dollar multi-national corporation, because WWE is not the only company in the business, not by a long shot. Not only are there several other companies in the US alone with major TV deals (including the incredible Lucha Underground, which is available on Netflix!), but there are literally hundreds of smaller companies operating across North America, running local shows in high school gyms, barns, parking lots, bars, circus tents, veteran association halls and yes, even church basements and the Knights of Columbus. Basically anywhere you can squeeze in a wrestling ring.

These small, often low-budget affairs feature a wide range of talent, ranging from pasty, awkward kids with no training up to international stars who are considered by those in the business as some of the best performers in the world. Not to mention washed-up stars from yesteryear, guys who were on TV for the WWF back in the 80s, now in their 60s, still making the rounds and trying to make a payday on their past glories. Who shows up all depends on what the promoter can afford and what the audience is willing to pay.

Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, who was WWF Intercontinental Champion in the 1980s, now 65 years old and looks like he died ten years ago. He wrestled as recently as last month and has matches booked through the summer. Has anyone seen Mickey Rourke in the "The Wrestler?"

Some small towns run shows with just local kids who barely know how to fall without hurting themselves in front of audiences of a dozen people. In big markets like Los Angeles, some of these "independent" shows gain cult followings, drawing thousands of people and even attracting big name celebrities to the audience. In every case though, the local Saturday night wrestling show is a cultural event, a special attraction that draws a certain community together. In that way it's like any sport or performance, except the audience is very small and very niche. Those who love it adore it, and those who don't think it's stupid. It's like a lot of obsessive fandoms in that way.

C*4 Wrestling in Ottawa runs monthly shows in front of packed houses of 300-400 people. The wrestlers are usually on the higher end of quality, featuring mostly local talent from Eastern Canada and the North Eastern US, we're just lucky that most of those guys happen to be pretty good. They also sometimes bring in bigger names or guys on the cusp of hitting in big, like Kevin Steen before he became world champion Kevin Owens in WWE, or The Young Bucks just as they were becoming an international sensation and a mainstay in Japan.

The aforementioned Kevin Steen, about to be hit in the face with a fan's shoe by Michael Elgin at C*4 Wrestling. 

Because the small hall is so packed, the wrestlers often end up right in the audience faces, and if you're sitting in the first four-or-five rows you have to be constantly on the alert to jump out of the way if a wrestler falls (or jumps) out of the ring into your lap. It's all part of the charm. The guys in the ring are working hard to entertain the audience, whether through jokey comedy bits, high-flying, gymnastic acrobatics, or old-fashioned tough-guy slugfests. Because it's so intimate the wrestlers can interact more directly with the crowd, playing with them and off them, and it's a very different experience than watching it on TV or even live in an arena with thousands of people.


You thought I was kidding about people nearly killing themselves?

My father-in-law and I love hitting the show when we can because it's a chance to get out of the house and have a laugh and a fun night out for just twenty bucks plus the price of french fries. It's way more intimate and entertaining, for significantly less money, than going to a WWE show or an Ottawa Senators game. And how often in an NHL game do you have a sweaty player land in the seat next to you, stop to take a selfie, then hop back on the ice to keep playing without missing a beat?

Also, the NHL doesn't have Space Monkeys.
Photo Credit: Me

I'm not going to convince anyone who thinks wrestling is stupid to become a fan with this post, But I will urge you, if you ever get a chance to watch an independent wrestling show at your local high school or bar, consider taking a chance on a different kind of night out. Independent pro wrestlers are much like independent musicians, writers or stand-up comics - they're just regular people, trying to live their dream and make a living doing something they love. They're not making big money but they love entertaining their fans, and some are very, very good at what they do. Give them a chance. I promise they will literally put their bodies on the line to show you a good time.

Local Ottawa-area favourite and male stripper, Sexxxy Eddy. He'll show you a whole different kind of good time.



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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author MD Neu


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Today I continue my monthly interview series with another up-and-coming author, M.D. Neu. His book, The Calling, was recently picked up by Ninestar Press, plus he sounds like a fascinating guy I would like to hang out with. Should be a fun one, so let's get down to business!

THE INTERVIEW!

How much research do you do?
A ton.  (laughs) I have pages and pages of research for all my stories.  I want my novels to feel real to feel like this could be going on right now.  So, I spent, and still spend hours and hours doing research. For ‘A New World – Contact’ and ‘A New World – Conspiracy’ I talked to people in the military and I did a lot of digging in at NASA. I tried to make it all as accurate as possible.  Is it perfect?  Nope.  Did I take liberty? Yep. Was it fun?  Oh, heck yea.

For ‘The Calling’ I dug around a lot into the history of Ancient Rome, the Crusades, the Witch Trails, and a lot into mythology.  Again I have pages and pages of notes.  The trick I found with the ‘The Calling’ is that I had a lot more wiggle room.  I could modify and make up things for my story to work.

I remember while I was having ‘The Calling’ critiqued, someone hammered me, in a good way, on one of my character’s names. It’s a French name and it’s not spelled correctly.  This was intentional.  When she was in that part of the world was still controlled by Rome and she was a Gaul, so the name wouldn’t be correct now, but it was the name given to her by her creator.  When I explained that, the critiquer agreed and said, “oh that makes sense.  I didn’t think about that.” Now was I right?  Was he right?  Doesn’t matter. Because in the world I created for them, it was correct in the context of the story.

So, I do a lot of research, just so I have a good base for my stories.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
I totally let my books sit and stew.  I have to otherwise I get so wrapped into what is happening that I miss things.  Even after letting it sit, I still miss things in the editing process.  That is why I love the Writer’s Group I belong to. They catch some of the stupid silly stuff I miss (as well as bigger things), which helps with the editing process.  I don’t think my manuscripts would be in the shape they are now without these wonderful writers.

Have you written works in collaboration with other writers, and if so: why did you decide to collaborate and did it affect your sales?
I’ve only written two things with a co-writer.  First, I wrote in collaboration with another writer was a play ‘The Faux Play – Stereotypes’.  It was for a class and there were no sales involved. Sadly, the friend I co-wrote the play with has since passed away. Second, I co-wrote a Home Remodeling Workbook.  We did it for a contactor and an interior designer who gave them to their clients to help them work through what they wanted to do and what it was going to take.  So, there weren’t really any sales to worry about.

Any amusing stories about marketing books that happened to you?
At this time all my marketing efforts have been geared to building up my reputation and creating my brand.  However, I do have a funny happenstance.  If you type in MDNeu into a search engine don’t be surprised if you find a lot of medical information and specialist. That isn’t so much the case anymore, but it happened a lot at first and it was something that I found very funny.

Are you worried about making marketing/Social Media mistake that can cost you and wreck your reputation as a writer?
Like everything, nothing is 100% risk free and there is potential to make mistakes in everything we do.  We see it over and over again in Social Media, something someone says, either in or out of context, causes an uproar, and people are rioting in the streets. Literally. These things happen.

What I’m worried about–is my big mouth.  I have strong opinions about a great number of subjects so keeping those opinions to myself or finding a very diplomatic way to express them is key.  Does this always work?  Nope.  Am I worried about total and complete embarrassment? Yep. Have I pissed off people by accident? Oh God yes and sadly I’ve lost a few friends because of it.

The best way, I think, to stop the flow of hate and to salvage your reputation is to cut it all off at the start.  Don’t hide from it.  Own up to it, if you were way out of line or wrong then move on.  Apologize if need be, but don’t be fake.  Agree to disagree. Be professional and honest.  If it is something that you believe in 100% don’t back down, stay true to yourself and what you said.  However, remember what you said, because in our online world these comments and remarks don’t go away. Ever.  So, if you are a hypocrite expect to be called out on it.

If all else fails, keep your strong personal opinions to yourself and stick to the facts. That’s what I do, or at least try to do.

THE WRITER!

MD Neu is a Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel.  Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be.  Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels.  MD Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, and Kim Stanley Robinson an odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society MD Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing. Wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When MD Neu isn’t writing he works for a non-profit and travels with his husband of eighteen years.

THE LINKS!

You can find him on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/mdneuauthor/ on Twitter here: @Writer_MDNeu His scribbles and more about his writing can be found here: www.mdneu.com His blog can be found here: www.mdneu.com/blog/
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A One-Legged Man in an Ass-Kicking Contest (#IWSG June 2017)


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Its IWSG day. Here's a good one to feel insecure about.

About a month ago I submitted my book, Ten Thousand Days, for Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. For those who don't know, Mark is the very successful and respected author of fantasy books such as Prince of Thorns, Prince of Fools and the David Gemmell Award-winning Emperor of Thorns. In addition to his success, Mark is a big supporter of new up-and-coming writers, especially independent writers, and so for the last three years he has lent his name to the aforementioned SPFBO.

Each year between 250 and 300 self-published authors submit their books to Mark, who delegates them to ten respected book review blogs. Each reviewer then pours over the books and chooses their favourite of their bunch, and the top ten books are then read and reviewed by all the blogs so that a single winner will be chosen. The full list of this year's 300 entries can be found here.

Not all the books will be read cover-to-cover and be reviewed of course, but the reviewers promise to give them all a chance and review as many as they can. Officially there is no prize, but getting chosen as a top contender and especially a finalist is a huge marketing boost, as it will result in numerous reviews on many top sites that will get your name and book in front of tons of potential new readers. It's so much buzz, in fact, that last year at least two of the finalists were approached by major publishers with the offer of contracts.

Last year's winner. This guy is now a big deal in my circles, and this book (and its sequel) will be re-released from Penguin/Random House next year.

The field of competition is wide, since the only real requirement for the contest is that your book is self-published. On the one hand, you have people entering who have literally just hit "publish" on Amazon with their very first book, who had it edited by their cousin and paid $5 for a cover on Fiverr. On the other end of the spectrum you have hybrid authors who have published traditionally, have large self-published back catalogs, and are well-known names in the field. There are people in the contest who run their own successful small publishing houses, or have agents. This is a business and a livelihood for them and they invest thousands of dollars into their covers and editors, and produce quality rivaling anything put out by the major publishers. One of the contestants is currently in the news for having just signed a $100,000 deal with Audible for the audio rights to his next book (he's sold 500,000 copies of his last half-dozen books or so).

Where exactly is the line for "up-and-coming" author, anyway?

Am I intimidated and insecure about going up against this kind of competition? Damn right I am. In the immortal words of Jim Ross, I feel about as prepared for this as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. I fully expect to be eliminated in the earliest wave of cuts. If I'm lucky I may get a polite "good try" review.

Pictured: A polite, "good try" review.

Some of the folks involved in the contest are currently running "fantasy brackets" (like in fantasy sports) to pick who they think the winners might be, based on simply the covers, blurbs and current reviews for the books. Imagine my surprise when someone actually picked Ten Thousand Days as one of the finalists (they picked it for top spot in the Fantasy-Faction bracket). I know it doesn't mean anything, the person who chose it is not a judge, nor have they even actually read the book, but it was a pleasant surprise.

So anyway, the contest is just ramping up and will be ongoing for awhile (it takes a long time to go through 300 books). In the next couple of months though, if anyone wants to drop my name or mention Ten Thousand Days anywhere, it would be much appreciated. Review copies of the new-and-improved version is available to anyone who wants one.

June IWSG Question: Did you ever say “I quit?" If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

All the time! Then I usually just take a nap and I feel better.

Seriously though, I've never officially "quit" writing, though there have been times when I've fallen into a lull and not written very much. But other than six months here or there I've been officially "writing" since high school, so over twenty years now. That's how long I've actively been composing words for the purpose of other people reading them. If you included stories I wrote for English classes in school (which was always my favourite assignments) I'm at about thirty years.

The lulls are usually caused by periods when I'm just really busy or tired or feeling down, and I can't find the time and the motivation to put the words down on the page. I haven't really quit, I don't think I could quit writing any more than I could quit eating lunch. It's just part of what I do. But sometimes you need a break, and ultimately those periods of downtime help you recharge, I think.

One last thing...


I just released a brand new (rather long) short story, "Revenge of the Lycanterrancephalopod" on Amazon. It's the sequel to my mildly-received story, "Tentacles Under a Full Moon." Both stories are very dark comic fantasy tales (Grindark? Grimlark? Grimdork?), and are full of violence, profanity and crass humour. Reader discretion is advised.

I decided to put both stories on Amazon KDP Select to give it a whirl. So if you have an Unlimited account, you can pick them up for free anytime. For everyone else, both "Revenge" and "Tentacles" are FREE to download for the next three days (June 7-9) so grab a copy now! If you like weird, obscene and hilarious fantasy, this is for you! Or maybe it's not, whatever. But it's free, right?

Blurb is below.

A serious sequel to a serious story. A story about grim, dark, hilarious misery.

SUGGESTED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES: Contains violence, coarse language, and alleged dwarf ejaculate. Allegedly.

One year after the great battle between the Werebear and the Landopus in the Barony of Amorous Felines in the Kingdom of Dyskovenia, a great evil has returned to once again scour the land. This new threat is both hairy AND slimy, as well as thoroughly indestructible.

A new group of heroes has risen to combat the threat, and this time, they mean business. They've brought along an inexperienced elf, a disgusting dump dwarf, a foul-mouthed uff and a vampiric chicken.

Maybe this isn't going to work out after all...

PICK-UP REVENGE OF THE LYCANTERRANCEPHALOPOD FOR FREE!

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group at http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Indian-Canadian Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE World Heavyweight Title


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On May 21, Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to become the 50th WWE World Heavyweight Champion, as well as the first-ever WWE World Champion of Indian descent. Billed from "Punjab, India," before his shocking upset win last week, Mahal was best known for wearing a turban to the ring and speaking punjabi in his interviews (well, besides a brief-stint when he wore leather pants and was part of a comedy rock trio with a Scottish guy and a ginger trailer park redneck - wrestling is weird). Wearing foreign clothes and speaking a foreign language has been a surefire way to make a wrestling villain for decades, ever since we had German Nazi wrestlers after World War II and Soviet Russians during the Cold War. There was also a period in the mid-2000s when they tried it with Middle-Eastern terrorists, but that went over really badly.

What is my point, besides the fact that wrestling is terribly racist? Like most of his villainous predecessors, Jinder Mahal is not quite what he seems. Like infamous Nazi wrestler Hans Schmidt and Soviet Ivan Koloff, Jinder Mahal is actually from Canada.

Ivan Koloff, born Oreal Perras, from Ottawa, Ontario. Maybe wrestling is just racist against Canadians?

Born Raj Singh Dhesi in Calgary, Alberta in 1986. Unlike his predecessors, at least Mahal is actually of Punjabi-Indian descent (Hans Schmidt - real name Guy Larose - was Quebecois). His uncle is Gama Singh, another famous Indian wrestler, and one of his first trainers along with Bad News Allen, a famous African-American wrestler who made his home in Calgary. With that kind of lineage, Mahal started off his career on the right foot. He began training in 2002 at just 16 years old and joined the big leagues, World Wrestling Entertainment, in 2011. From the start, he always played up his Indian heritage, because it was a simple (again, racist) gimmick that made it easy for people to boo him.

I'm sure it was those early lessons from Gama and Bad News that guided the young Mahal's decisions. Gama also played up his Indian heritage, and Bad News was famous for playing a streetwise black brawler from the  New York (to be fair, he actually was a streetwise black brawler from New York - but also an Olympic medalist in Judo). Both went far with their stereotypes, but neither made it to quite the height of Mahal's recent success.

Critical to Jinder's success is his supernatural quantity of veins.

We all know that pro-wrestling is scripted, and that champions are chosen not necessarily because of their skill but because they can make their company money. There have been criticisms that Mahal is just a mediocre wrestler with a boring, old-fashioned character, but obviously the WWE sees something in him. It's true that the last year he has worked his ass off, getting into incredible shape and throwing himself fully into whatever he's asked to do. But there are plenty of guys in that boat, what makes Jinder so special?

I'll give you a clue: It rhymes with 1.3 billion people in India.

WWE is a global business. While it's a house-hold name in North America and most of Europe, it's always trying to get into new markets, especially the huge, untapped markets of India and China. India loves professional wrestling. Western wrestling shows there are rare, but always play to enormous crowds. WWE recently signed a new TV deal to bring their product directly into Indian homes, but they needed a face that the population could relate to and get behind.

Hello, Jinder.

There are also rumours he got a raise for nearly taking off an Irishman's head with an elbow.

Mahal is very aware of his position, and why he's being pushed in the direction he's going. He was in the right place at the right time, but he worked hard to be in that place, in order to get that lucky break. Wrestling works like most other types of show business. At the same time, though, he's also acutely aware that he's now a role model for Indian kids around the world, and even if he's playing a villain on TV, he wants to take that position seriously and show his heritage proudly. Hell, even though he's a villain in the US, it's quite possibly he'll get cheered overseas for beating up Americans.

Even Canada is proud of their new champion. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta took a moment last week to actually congratulate their native-born son on his big win.

Pictured: Not the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Will the WWE make Mahal's reign something memorable and significant? Or will he be just another cowardly foreign bad guy, looking like a chump in every match and just keeping the belt warm until another the next smiling (American) hero comes along to defeat him? History would suggest that it's probably the latter. Despite claiming to be a global phenomenon, the WWE is not known for its delicate handling of the international superstars. Take their last big Indian "star" wrestler, The Great Khali (Dalip Singh Rana). A legitimate huge name and famous movie star in his homeland (as well as appearing in big films in the US like The Longest Yard and Get Smart), in the WWE he was treated as a complete joke because he was awkward and talked funny.

Here's Khali is in a comedy team with a midget and the farting woman (no seriously, that was her gimmick). In wrestling, being foreign, small or a woman are all fair game for mockery.

Who knows. The WWE has struggled recently to become more responsible and less offensive, not just because they're targeting global markets but because it's goddamn 2017. This is not a 1950s Southern country fair. Some of the folks in charge keep forgetting that.

So good luck, Jinder, with overcoming decades of discrimination and oppression. Maybe you'll be the one to finally break through and prove that a "foreign" (again, Canadian) guy can go far in this wrestling business. As long as you keep putting on those awesome Bollywood-style dance shows, we'll be behind you.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

May the 40th Be With You


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May 25, 1977.

Forty years ago today, a film was released that would forever change movie-making and fandom in North America. I'm not going to go into an in-depth discussion of that movie, you can get that at countless sites around the internet. Instead, I'm going to reminisce on my personal experiences with that film and how it affected my own life. Plus I'm going to share some of my favourite backstage set photos.


Sir Alec Guinness celebrating his birthday on the set of Star Wars. Fun fact: Mark Hamill, still playing Luke Skywalker, is now older than Guinness was when they filmed the original movie.

Star Wars came out a few years before I was born. Return of the Jedi came out when I was only three, so I didn't get to see any of original trilogy in theatres during it's original run. I first remember watching Star Wars on broadcast television when I was about five or six. I was in my room watching it on a 12-inch black & white TV. I must have been sick, because I didn't usually have a TV in my room, my parents must have put it there because I was stuck in bed. I vividly remember watching Obi-Wan on Tatooine, a scene probably not far off from the one they were shooting in the photo above.

The next time you complain about CGI, remember that poor Kenny Baker spent YEARS inside that bucket for these movies.

I don't remember many details about it, but I remember I must have liked it because I had my parents tape it the next time it came on and then I watched it repeatedly. I loved the space ships and lightsabers and wanted some of my own, though by that time the toy craze was waning and the action figures and models were hard to find. When I visited my older cousin a few months later and discovered he had literally HUNDREDS of the figures, plus the Millennium Falcon and a TIE fighter and gads of other stuff, I was SO jealous. The biggest shock I got that visit though, was when my cousin told me that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father.

I couldn't believe it. I got mad at him for lying to me. He swore it was true. I of course hadn't seen The Empire Strikes Back yet, and my tiny mind could not process this new information. When we got home I made my parents rent Empire and Jedi (video rental was a big deal in the mid-eighties) and watched them as the ever-expanding universe exploded my mind. AT-AT walkers. Yoda. Ewoks. Jabba the Hutt. A GREEN lightsaber. I never did get any of the toys, but those images were permanently seared into my impressionable young mind. 

The thing I love the most about the original movie is how earnest everything is. The cast and crew really seemed to be having fun.

Eventually my interests moved on to other things. I got into other movies and cartoons, starting playing baseball and collecting hockey cards, got big into LEGO. Star Wars was always there, but it wasn't an over-powering central focus in my life. But then, in the early nineties when I was about 12 years old, it all came crashing back in a torrent.

Several events came together in a perfect storm for me. New Star Wars novels started appearing, featuring the continuing adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and an ever-growing cast of supporting characters. New toys started popping up, too. I was actaully get a little old for it, but I wasn't going to turn up my chance to finally get a lightsaber and a Darth Vader action figure. 

Oh, Chewie, you giant hairy pervert.

The biggest thing though, was that I had started to get into roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, and I discovered that Star Wars had a roleplaying game, too! I could create my own adventures and characters, and tell new stories with my friends. It was glorious! My friends and I played every day after school for months on end, crafting a broad, decades-spanning epic about our own rag-tag group of heroes: Kan Saga, the serious, studious Jedi student. Cris Bahn, the rebel-pilot-turned-businessman, who ran a galaxy-wide shipping business, settled down with a family, and then went out and started training as a Jedi. Wookie Nookie, the loser/stoner/artist/musician Jedi who had survived the Emperor's purge and eventually went on to become the greatest Jedi master of them all, taking over Luke Skywalker's school for him.

Our adventures went on for over a year (of real time, like I said, it was decades in the game), until in the epic climax Cris Bahn turned to the Dark Side and Kan Saga immediately murdered him. Our stories always ended that way.

You try to do this without laughing.

Now, because I had forged personal connections and bonds to it, Star Wars had dug even deeper into my soul. I was a massive, unabashed Star Wars nerd. I would not only celebrate the release of Star Wars every year on May 25, I would also celebrate September 25, Mark Hamill's birthday. I actually put up a picture of Mark on my locker one year for "Mark Hamill Day" and got beaten up for it. 

I don't know if nerd bullying still exists today, but it was certainly alive and well in 1994. 

Jump ahead twenty years. My interests and obsessions with Star Wars waxed and waned over the years, but recently something amazing has started to happen. My kids have started getting into Star Wars, and I'm getting to experience it for the first time all over again. 

Two Christmases ago, my son, just shy of four, got a little toy X-wing and TIE fighter. He was visiting me at work on Christmas Eve, and we ran down the hall together, saying "pew pew!" as the ships chased each other back and forth. Over the next year he got more toys, and Star Wars LEGO, and books, and pretty soon he was super into it. I didn't need to force (no pun intended) it on him - he picked it up quickly on his own and started to ask for more. I don't know if he just saw how excited I was for it, or if it genuinely touches some deep story-telling part of kids. Heck, even his 2-year old sister is getting into it, and she already knows all the characters - Leia, Dawth Vader, Chewie, Yoda, Awtoo, Treepio. It just seems to strike a chord with kids.

An incredibly rare sight: Harrison Ford laughing.


This past Christmas, I watched Star Wars with my son for the first time. He sat on the couch and snuggled into me as the Star Destroyer roared across the screen at the beginning, watching enraptured as the stormtroopers burst through the doors, blasting away at the rebels. It wasn't long before he was on his feet though, and I'll never forget the sight of him bouncing up and down in excitement as the X-wings attacked the Death Star at the end. 

A few weeks later, when we visited Legoland for his 5th birthday, we found a life-sized LEGO model of R2-D2. He insisted I give him my debit card, because he wanted to "protect the secret plans!" and re-enact the scene were Leia loads the Death Star plans into the droid.

It's all come full-circle. Star Wars, as a cultural phenomenon, has grown to unfathomable size. And as long as it keeps making money for Disney, new movies will keep coming out. And I'm okay with that. It's become something bigger than George Lucas, bigger than the original fans who loved it in the 70s and 80s. It now belongs to millions of people, and while it brings them all together it means something different to every one of them. 

I'm perfectly happy with that. I don't know if my kids will grow up to be Star Wars nerds or if they will show the movies to their kids with the same relish I did, but that's okay. It means something different to everyone. For me, I think my memories of watching my kids watching Star Wars are even better than my those of me watching it myself. 

Thank you for giving joy to my family and I for forty years. Here's to forty more.

Also, any time you start to take Star Wars too seriously, just remember that there's a sweaty, tanned dude in pink hotpants just out of frame.


BONUS PICS

Vanity Fair released a wonderful article and series of photographs by Annie Leibovitz yesterday about Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. You should go check them out here, but a couple of the photos were just so poignant I had to steal borrow them to share here. Enjoy.

Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill with Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy (probably the most powerful woman in Hollywood). Also, Carrie and Mark's dogs are there, because of course they are. I love this picture.

Mark and Carrie did this for forty years. Go back and look at some of those pictures of them as kids and try not to get choked up at this one.

Carrie Fisher with her daughter, Billie Lourd, who plays Lt. Kaydel Connix in The Force Awakens and the upcoming The Last Jedi. Sigh. We're still getting over you, Carrie.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Canadaland Guide to Canada is the Guide I Wish I Had Written


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Anyone who followed my A-to-Z blog posts last month know that I'm fascinated by weird and obscure Canadian trivia and history. Turns out I'm not the only one. The Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America) by journalist and podcaster Jesse Brown is a brand new, hilarious collection of weird, embarrassing, obscene and shameful facts about America's not-so-polite Northern Neighbour that reads like the textbook companion to my blog series.

This book tries really hard to make you feel ashamed to be Canadian. Canada is known as a polite and progressive country, and while that's generally true, we also have A LOT of skeletons in our closet. This book takes all of them out and shakes them in your face for the world to see. It dispenses a lot of myths about Canada that other countries have been parroting for so long that we've started to believe them ourselves.

Some of these stories are just silly. Like when American Civil War Veterans invaded Canada in 1866, the head of our military and soon-to-be first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, spent the entire battle drunk in his office. Or the fact that in the early days, the government tricked people into moving here by never mentioning the weather or the word "snow" in their immigration material.

Some of the stories are also horrifying. For example, did you know the Indian Act (which I mentioned in a previous post) was actually the inspiration for South African government's apartheid policy?

Some of the delightful characters you'll meet in the pages of the book.

It just goes on and on like that. Page after page of hundreds of short stories, facts and quotes, just hitting you like a machine gun full of Tim Hortons donuts. It's hilarious and cringe-worthy, but it's almost too much. I had to take breaks from it a few times because it was an onslaught of information overload. It's probably better to be read in snippets and funny chunks instead of trying to power through in one sitting. Much like a fine poutine, one cannot gorge oneself too deeply lest one risk throwing up all over the place (I think I screwed up that metaphor, but you get my point).

The level of sarcasm is orbital, which kind of actually distracts from the sheer ridiculousness and extreme unbelievability of some of the true stories. My one complaint is that Brown tries to be a bit too cheeky at times; the stories are over-the-top and funny by themselves, his snide remarks and sarcasm actually made me question which parts were actually true and which were his exaggeration, which led me to have to look up a few of the crazier-sounding facts. Which, come to think of it, may have been his point.

All in all, this is a terrific reference that every Canadian should read. So should every non-Canadian actually. God knows we can stand to be taken down a peg or three; we spend enough time mocking Americans that it's only fair we take a good hard look at ourselves, too.

In case you missed it, yes that is Drake canoodling a moose on the cover.

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