Category Archives: Fiction

Limestone Genre Expo, Year 3

I spent a good part of this weekend at the Limestone Genre Expo, in Kingston, Ontario. This is the third year I’ve bought tickets, but only the first time I could pry my introverted butt out and down to the event. I was never entirely sure about what to expect.

As if I always know what to expect when I leave the house. It takes an iron will to break through and the Limestone Genre Expo was well worth the effort.

The Expo portion of the event includes booths from the various writers and publishers represented or attending. The Genre portion of the event is a series of panels and workshops on writing in various genres and cross-genre. The range of topics were wonderful, there was something for everyone, I thought. I thought that because I saw people heading into rooms where I was not going. I was never a lone audience member.

The Limestone part of the event is Kingston, the Limestone City. Limestone is everywhere in Kingston, buildings, outcroppings, carefully arranged gardens, and more.

I made it to a workshop and four panels. In general, the people at the event, both as presenters and attendees, were interested in discussions. There was a lot of laughter in the hallways. In some ways, it felt more like a party.

Flash Fiction Workshop

I arrived late and I didn’t arrive with work in hand. Sounds like my five years at Catholic school.

The workshop leader, Rob Brunet (http://www.robbrunet.com/), walked us through the elements of good flash fiction. It might be nice, for future, to bring one or more prompts in and have us all plow away at a piece. We could talk more about the process once we’ve challenged ourselves with what we’ve heard and read.

But then, as far as creativity goes these days, I always seem to need a prompt.

Rob’s piece was one he’d had published on a flash site that focuses on mysteries, murder mysteries (I assume). His piece about a possible crime, it’s never truly revealed, was gently amusing about a missing man’s whereabouts. Rob encourages flash fiction writers to be on the lookout for those prompts in your life that can lead you many other places.

Melissa Yi (http://melissayuaninnes.com/) came to the workshop and read “Because” a flash piece published in Fiction River Special Edition: Crime (http://www.wmgpublishinginc.com/project/crime/). That was a particularly disturbing piece.

I read “Come Along” which was accepted on http://fiftywordstories.com/.

Extraordinary Bodies Panel

In advance of commenting on the panel, I do want to say that as a person who became disabled as an adult, I admit to a prejudice about disabilities. I didn’t think I deserved this fate. It’s taken six long years of struggle for me to come to terms with my own disability. The second concern I had going in had to do with cultural appropriation.

The panel was Cait Gordon (https://caitgordon.com/), Pat Flewwelling, Laura Baumbach (http://www.laurabaumbach.com/), Dominic Bercier (http://www.mirrorcomics.com/), Jennifer Carole Lewis (http://pastthemirror.com/), and Rick Blechta (http://www.rickblechta.com/). The moderator was Curtis Brunet (from Cogeco Cable, a sponsor of the event and provider of interviews with and readings by the authors attending the event).

The panel began with the authors making a point they felt was important. Generally, it was agreed that the disability needs to be integral to the character but not, necessarily, the plot. Every author spoke of the need for research and reviews to ensure you are handling the subject matter correctly, sensitively, and not too gently. As Cait declared, “Don’t make us pathetic, let us have personality. And sex!”

There was a lively discussion as a number of audience members were people with mental and/or physical disabilities. It did seem, overall, that the panel was singing to the choir. Nonetheless, here are some pointers that came out of the session:

  • no miracle cures
  • no inspiration porn – using tropes to make the angels sing and everything hunky-dory
  • you may have to spoon-feed some readers, but keep the feeding within the storyline

And here are some suggested reading:

  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Journey of a Thousand Steps by Madona Skaff-Koren
  • The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I know there’s more out there.

Poetry and Spoken Word Panel

I admit, during the discussion on poetry and the spoken word, I wrote a surreal poem. I was trying for surreal.

the black cat came in through the back door
a duck quacked sullenly in the dark
this was the end, by life takes a turn
suddenly, a small dog barks, raising cain
cain kills his brother, according to the stories
round the fire to keep the night at bay

It’s not great, but it occupied my mind while everyone settled in. Got me in the mood.

The panel was Alyssa Cooper (https://alyssa-cooper-author-publisher.myshopify.com/), Bob MacKenzie, Sandra Kasturi (http://www.sandrakasturi.com/), Anita Dolman (http://anitadolman.blogspot.ca/), and Janet Kellough (http://www.janetkellough.com/). The moderator was Kate Heartfelt.

This was an interesting panel if only because almost everything that Bob said, he seemed to preface with “I’m going to disagree with you on…” enter topic or point here. It began to sound more like a verbal tick than anything else.

There was a discussion of the difference between “page” poetry and “spoken” or “performance” poetry. In answer to a question from the audience, the authors debated the idea that writing for performance changes the shape of poetry as you write. Others felt that both forms were worked the same. The shape of poetry on the page communicates, or can communicate, just as pauses, body motion, and voice can enhance or emphasize the various elements of the poem. I’m just guessing here.

I’m delighted that poetry is blossoming under the care of an oral tradition. The Internet age allows us to share of oral traditions with a much larger audience.

Q&A with a Forensic Investigator Panel

I was thrilled to get in to listen to Jeff Smith, an investigator with the Kingston Police Force. Jeff is a soft-spoken man with a lot of experience to convey. There were eager, often repetitive, questions from across the audience. Much of which focused on the details of a murder investigation:

  • when were suspects questioned (as soon as possible, as often as useful)
  • what do the crime scene investigators do (collect data)
  • when are autopsies needed and who determines that (on-scene officers determine if it is a suspicious death, an autopsy the next day)
  • are people on bail forced to wear trackers (no, it’s very expensive to outfit an individual with an ankle monitor)
  • are shows like The First 48 realistic (no, not at all, although Jeff compared the time at the start of a murder investigation to an ice cream cone saying you want to get things done before the ice cream melts)

And so, I give you this:

My heart is scored with the sensation of birth
Striated from your barrel of rage, I am dumped, squalling
You spun me like a cartridge in my daddy’s old rifle

Deep in the shade of an old oak tree, I plan
Your demise I imagine, your painful death I replay
Tomorrow, I promise, I will wake up and start, be ready

Your fingerprints are found all over the scene
All the evidence I need to prove you did this
You may have misfired, this time; don’t worry, I won’t.

No hurry, this ice cream won’t melt

Computers, Teleporters, & Robots Panel

This was a fun panel and I’m glad I was able to fit it in, as I was tiring. The panelists were Matthew Bin (http://matthewbin.com/), Madonna Skaff-Koren (https://renaissancebookpress.com/2015/04/09/author-madona-skaff-koren/), Jack Briglio (https://jackbriglio.com/), Lisa Tooey, Katherine Prairie (http://katherineprairie.com/), and Melissa Yuan-Innes (Melissa Yi at http://melissayuaninnes.com/). The lively and balanced moderator was Kris Jacen.

We spent a bunch of time talking about Artificial Intelligence. I opened my mouth right away. I had been messing about with the idea of AI because I’d found a contrast between stories such as “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and the CBC’s story on AI which was mostly about how our current ability leaves most AI products biased. The news article was a bit on the “be frightened, there be boogie AIs in your future!”

We talked about the limits of science. We played about with teleportation as a device plot, mostly approved of when they break down or fail the characters in some way, creating tension.

The general agreement was that a working AI needs to be beyond, above, or without morals. I was uncomfortable with this so I looked into the idea of ethics and morals. You’d build an ethical AI because you’d program in rules, like Asimov’s 3 Laws:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws form the ethical backbone of your AI. Unlike morals, which are your interpretation of right and wrong, ethics are imposed or provided by an external entity.

Asimov’s 3 Laws, then, are the foundation of the ethical backbone of the AI. Any other constraints on its behaviour, assuming the 3 Laws are included in the programming, depending on the programmers of the black box, the processing, and the data fed into the AI system. AIs learn through data dumps, as much information as possible, and pattern searching. There’s a lot to play with there! It’s the age old question of nature and nurture, where does the being derive its core beliefs?

Ninefox Gambit in Review

Every once in a while, my wife will suggest I read something she’s just read because I will, just like her, love it. I resist these recommendations. Somehow it feels like a set-up for failure; I’ll fail to love the book, the author will fail to live up to the advertisement, my wife will fail in her recognition of my preferences. So much riding on such small acts.

I just finished reading Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. I think you should read it.

cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

As a writer, I resist the temptation to compare and contrast myself against authors. Any such comparison would be beyond odious. I have, mostly, shed this wretched habit. I wanted to practice this newfound appreciation of others. I do not need the proverbial bitters before this meal. I long to pull out a chair at Yoon Ha Lee’s table.

This is the type of story that has stepped light-years out along a continuum and brought back a story of the future.

The writing feels a bit dense in the beginning as you struggle to find a raft in the sea of new perspective Yoon Ha drops you into. From the very first, you’re deep in the universe of the story. This is a powerful opera in the making; rich worldbuilding saves you from drowning, only to push you back under, once or twice, and fabulous character development gives you bridges into worlds beyond your imagining. Or not. If you’ve lived this kind of madness, there are a thousand gurus seeking you.

The teacher in the novel is a dark presence. There are no light presences. This is a story of liferafts. The characters lurch from the debris of one disaster after another. If you read quickly, you’ll find yourself grabbing the edges, just as you grabbed the toboggan on those really ragged, long hills; speed and height leave you scrabbling for a handhold.

The pronouncements provided by Ninefox Gambit, written into this amazing adventure by Yoon Ha Lee, are cutting edge in a social dynamic that roiling with uncertainty and rip tides. Some might call it brave. I call it scalding. I think you have to be brave to really read it.

It helped to have read the Locus interview with the author.

The novel is an equation to be solved. Reflecting back on the story with that in mind, I find that each scene is both an equation and a result inserted into the larger equation. It’s a pragmatic view and one shared by few writers. The idea percolated and with a light switch from music to math, we find ourselves traveling an entirely new universe.

The plotline is tangled enough to satisfy the lustiest of plot lovers. There are scenes that may, momentarily, seem jarringly unrelated to the core story arc, but as you chew on the author’s vision, it becomes clear that the divisions of society both work and don’t work. A working version of the universe is in place, but, as always when the powers have everything settled to their satisfaction, a rebel is born. Some rebels must then be cultivated and set against that external rebel.

Rebellion is not a new idea in this universe. Meet the riskiest rebellion yet. Let’s increase the ante! Introduce two internal rebels and pray that they cancel each other out as internal rebels while applying a quantum leap of rebel logic to the problem, the immediate problem, the external problem. The solution of this larger problem, defeating the most dangerous heresy to date, occupies the space opera slot of this heavily driven plot. Breathless pacing.

The development of the central characters is rich and arrived at through the view of actions and motivations. Lee writes brilliantly. While pulling you down into a whirlpool, Yoon Ha shows you the character acting habitually and thinking beyond those habits. Wishing, as we all have at some point, that things could be different.

Character development appears effortless. Not long into the story, you begin to wonder who people are. Who they really are. The characters emerge, are revealed and transformed, as seen through their actions and their asides. Skillful writing! The protagonist, Cheris, is someone you want to connect with, someone you want to see Cheris win in this complex collapse of civilization. Or the collapse of a complex civilization.

Flashbacks are handled consciously. Come here. Look, a flashback. This character learns. You learn. Each flashback contributes to the development of the story, the universe, and the characters. There is a lot to know in this story. As complex as the mathematic basis may feel, at the beginning, you can understand it, with increasing confidence, as the story develops. There are ongoing expansions of the concepts. With exquisite writing, Yoon Ha brings us along the story arc, no matter how well we meet the mathematics.

Can one trust one’s own rebel? Can one trust?

My advice remains: read this book.

I write; I am therefor.

You may wonder about that possibly misspelt word “therefor” and I’m here to tell you that it worked! I caught your attention.

Therefor is a real word, with its own definition and a rare, but useful, application. Therefore means for that reason.

The attacker was at the door, for that reason we locked the door and called the police. The attacker was at the door, therefore we locked the door and called the police.

Therefor, on the other hand, means for that. Not for that reason. Simply for that. I am here to write.

More than one of you know I’m using it incorrectly.

Complete the application and include the paperwork required for the application. Complete the application and include the paperwork therefor.

This leads into today’s post. It’s about writing, a commitment to writing, and a habit of writing looking for a way to survive. Although I’ve written for as long as I can remember, I’ve only once used to as a source of income; I did quite well. Change, I am reminded, is a constant in my life.

I’ve had many opportunities in my life to start anew. Almost anything can be taken as a reason to shake things up and look for rot.

My definition of success comes with an ethical rider attached. If this rider is breached, the results are not a success. Motivation is less a factor than action. I’m confused when I act appropriately and don’t succeed, but I’m not demoralized by it. I’ve succeeded and failed in about equal quantities; though I cannot measure the quality of each success and failure, I can say that I’ve come out ahead on the success side.

Failure is as much a state of mind as anything. There are real consequences to failure. Every setback presents a new direction. Failure is a corrective action. Hopefully, it’s less serious than a heart attack.

Success, too, is a mental and projected state. The consequences of success are not always evident. Yes, you may have reached the acme of action and yet, have you acted with care for anyone, anything other than your self. The rotted fruit can taste so sweet.

You can make some mean drink with rotted fruit, take the top of your head right off, reveal the universe, but it doesn’t make you coherent.

Today I am starting, again, just as I do most any day because the racket of the day before has driven my plans into disarray. What was the racket?

I write. That’s what I do. I do other, day-to-day things, like bathing, dressing, eating, chatting, and so on. But, while most of you are settling in for an evening of television, company, or a night out, I’m curled up in a chair imagining new worlds, new answers, new solutions. That chair is usually positioned in front of my laptop or a notebook. I’m writing.

I wake up in the morning and sort through my projects. If nothing is time sensitive, good luck with that, then I pick the project that needs the most teeth. I choose the project that is either underdone or overdone and I chew it into something more palatable. Then I write the layers on top of that carcass and voila, a story arises.

I write for myself. I write for a potential audience. But, mostly I just trust that if I write what I feel then the audience will come. I know that reality is somewhere in between those two extremes (me only – everyone else).

I do write non-fiction, technical, and other straight-faced types of writing. Fiction and poetry fill my wee heart with delight because, unlike reality, I can fix things in fiction and, even more importantly, I can leave them broken.

I write for other people. With an idea, an outline, or a more detailed structure, I can write what another cannot. With a few short interviews, I collect what information I need and then I sit down and do for them what they haven’t been able to do for themselves, I write their story down. They can show me a picture and tell me five things about a person, then I write it down for them.

Creativity may seem like an odd bedfellow for someone writing other people’s ideas down, but it feels creative. As an empath, I drink in the essence of the story and

I write. It’s how I live.