Tag Archives: Writing

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

It is not clear to me if visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere have picked up on the themes here at Potato Chip Math but here they are:

  • Views into a (new) writer’s world
  • Community
  • Creativity & Inspiration (how people find it, what forms it takes, how to recognize it, what to do when you, the importance of it, etc)
  • Self-Improvement / Growth / Mental & Physical Health

I tend to write a lot about being a writer on this blog. It makes sense given it’s a profession that I have been working towards for some time now. However, one of the aspects of being a writer, and the art of writing in general, is that you also have to be a reader. This is one area in which I will always need improvement but it is also one in which I will take great pleasure in improving.

There are literally millions of books published year-over-year though, so how does a person even begin to choose? For me, the preference is given to people I know personally who have written books. I know what goes into bringing a novel into the world and it’s the absolute least I can do to buy one from a peer and give it a read. In doing this, I have found that my interests have shifted from some the big names I used to read to some other authors who have books or series that I find much less formulaic and mass produced.

Why is this? Well to put it simply, the stories are better.

I would encourage every reader out there to ask a writer, or a friend, or a librarian, or someone who works at a bookstore (even a big chain bookstore), or a teacher, or even that person in the coffee shop or on the bus/subway/streetcar/train reading a book you’ve never heard of for a recommendation. Some of them won’t work out, but that’s okay. Not every book is suitable for everyone. But I guarantee you that you’ll find some gems that years from now you’ll be wondering why more people don’t know about them.

With this in mind, I am going to start a new feature here at Potato Chip Math I have aptly named Have You Read Any… 

The idea is simple. Every now and then I will profile an author from whom I have read at least one book that I particularly enjoyed. Sometimes I will know the writer personally, sometimes not, but in every case, it will be someone who isn’t currently a “big name” author (e.g. you won’t find me endorsing Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and the like).

Without further ado, I present the pilot episode of Have You Read Any…

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

A.J. Aalto is a biologist, a student of criminal psychology & behaviour, an axe-throwing belly dancer, a poor Sudoku puzzler, a badge bunny, a PVP gamer, and a goofball. When not studying murder or writing dick jokes, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at life. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.

In addition to all the aforementioned characteristics, she is the author of one of my favourite series, The Marnie Baranuik Files.

Marnie is a rare dual-talented psychic with a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. Her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart, and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at her remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, she isn’t particularly eager to stick her neck out again, but her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Follow Marnie, Lord Guy Harrick “Harry” Dreppenstedt, Kill Notch, and a host of other characters as they battle ghouls, goblins, ogres, orcs, revenants, zombies, and more.

In order, here are the links:

There are also shorts that tie into but can be read independently from, the series that A.J. calls Marnie Baranuik Between the Files stories.

But that’s not all! Yes, that’s right, there’s more!

One of the principal characters in the Marnie books, Lord Guy Harrick “Harry” Dreppenstedt, a 400-year-old revenant with a propensity for fancy Olde English and some serious skills in the kitchen, has a cookbook.

Finally, A.J. has written one of hopefully many more non-Marnie books. Closet Full of Bones is a gripping psychological thriller that is next up on my reading list.

A.J. creates complex characters that invoke strong feelings in the reader as they weave their way through clever plot lines and a world built with intricate detail. My fifteen-year-old daughter is absolutely hooked on the Marnie books as much as I am and I suggest picking up a copy of Touched and beginning your journey toward Baranuik addiction as soon as you can.

~ Andrew


Are you a writer that wants to be featured on Have You Read Any… Are you a reader with a favourite author you’d like to see featured? Place the book or author link in the comments or send me an email (potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com) and I’ll put them on the list of books to pick up and read.

Please note that it is not necessary to provide me free copies of any books in exchange for a Have You Read Any… feature. I prefer printed books anyway so I’ll buy them like everyone else. Regardless of whether or not the author gets a spot on my blog, if they aren’t published with Oghma Creative Media I will be sure to leave a review.

Connections

I am a writer. As such, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I have even more acquaintances who are writers. On social media (mostly Facebook but also Instagram and Twitter) I would wager that my interactions with writers outnumber interactions with everyone else combined. I have a short list of non-family members that I put into the category of close friends. There are two from my university days and another three that I didn’t even know existed until I started writing, and more specifically, started participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as well like to call it, or if we’re being particularly lazy, “NaNo”.

NaNo is a challenge to writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In other words, write a novel in thirty days. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, for an entire month. It’s a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. Trust me, I know. I participated in this challenge six years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and was only successful four out of those six years.

For a number of reasons, I’m not doing NaNo this year. A friend asked me if it felt weird and I said that it did. Other than the fact I’ve done it for six years in a row now I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. I thought a bit about it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it felt weird because NaNoWriMo is a big reason that I am a writer at all.

In early 2010 I started dabbling with some writing. Not simply jotting stuff down and blogging every now and then, but writing with plot and character in mind. Well, sort of. I was blogging somewhat regularly and I had every intention of starting a big screenwriting project, at some point, some time, you know, later. But by some sheer twist of fate, it was the month of November that all that changed.

If anyone out there is a fan of the James Burke show Connections (and Connections 2 and Connections 3) you’ll see that my “path to success” goes WAY back and isn’t exactly a straight line.

That’s Why I’m on This Oil Rig a Writer

  • In 1993 I worked as a clerk at a video store before heading off to university.
  • It was that first year at university that I would have a little girlfriend trouble.
  • While that was going on, Kevin Smith was writing the movie Clerks. It is a movie about a couple dudes working as, well, clerks. One in a video store and one at a convenience store. One of the clerks has girlfriend trouble. 
  • That movie came out in 1994 and I saw it when it hit video stores in 1995. The movie changed the way I looked at films and my whole creative process and I was an immediate fan. 
  • Later that year I got back together with one of my girlfriends from back in 1993. We would get married on November 6, 1999.  
  • Fast forward to 2010. Kevin Smith had made ten movies and was a huge success and doing his Q&A sessions and multiple podcasts. My wife looks out her office window one day and sees a billboard advertising Kevin Smith coming to town just a few days before our anniversary.
  • We attend the show and have a great time and it sparked something in me. Afterwards, I came across this blogger and writer by the name of Robert Chazz Chute who wrote about his experience at the same show. In his post, he mentioned this weird thing called NaNoWriMo. I, in turn, wrote a blog post about getting off my ass and actually writing something. It was going to be a screenplay. 
  • In 2011 I started writing the screenplay and I was having a conversation with one of those close friends I mentioned earlier in the post. I was lamenting that I was having a hard time getting my story to fit into the framework of a film. He said that he didn’t want to see an Andrew Butters movie. He’d rather read an Andrew Butters book. So, I switched gears and started to write it as a novel. 
  • In November 2011, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I was there alongside Robert cranking out words and having a great time. It was on Twitter during NaNo that I met a writer by the name of Jennifer Gracen.
  • Jennifer was a NaNo cheerleader and she introduced me to a whole number of other writers and eventually she invited me into a writer’s group on Facebook. One of these individuals is now one of my other close friends, Gordon Bonnet. We joke that we are brothers from different mothers. Twins separated at birth and by more than a decade and several strands of DNA. 
  • One of the Twitter NaNo folks Jennifer introduced me to almost died due to a medical complication and there was an anthology being put together to raise money to help pay her medical bills. I wrote a piece of creative non-fiction about the unexpected death of my wife’s brother and Jennifer edited that piece for me. It was eventually accepted into the anthology and just like that, I had my first published piece. 
  • Shortly thereafter I had a photographer friend, Christine Reid, do some headshots for me. If I was going to write books I was going to need pictures for back covers, right?
  • Then, in 2014 my daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was going to require spinal fusion surgery. Since there was little information out on the web from girls and families that have gone through this, my genius wife decided that we should keep a family blog to chronicle the journey. 
  • A year post-surgery the blog was done and I decided that if I could add a bit more context to the blog posts that it would make a pretty powerful book. In October 2016 I finished Bent But Not Broken: One Family’s Scoliosis Journey
  • In January of 2017, I was talking to another writer, one to whom I was introduced at the same time as my brudder from another mudder. She suggested I talk to him about Bent. So, I did. He was beta reading the manuscript and unbeknownst to me had given it to the Editorial Board at his publisher, Oghma Creative Media. A few weeks later I had my first writing contract.
  • A couple months later, the Oghma founder was asking me for a headshot for an announcement on their Facebook page about my signing. I pointed him to the folder of headshots that my friend Christine did for me.
  • He asked me if I did any acting when inquiring about why I had headshots taken. I told him I had them done so I’d have something for a book cover one day. He said, “Oh, you’ve written other stuff?” and I told him I had a few pieces of almost completed fiction plus bits and bobs of incomplete stuff that will take shape at some point. He invited me to the publisher’s writing retreat in the summer and said we would talk.
  • I returned home in August of 2017 from my publisher’s writing retreat with two book contracts: one for a standalone psychological thriller (short novel) and one for an open-ended suspense series called The “No” Conspiracies (which will be at least five books at this point). 
  • Bent But Not Broken comes out on the third anniversary of my daughter’s surgery on January 20, 2018. 
  • Hard Truth (the short novel) comes out in September of 2018.
  • No Fixed Address: The “No” Conspiracies Book #1 comes out in March 2019.
  • No Known Cure: The “No” Conspiracies Book #2 comes out in September 2019, which currently sits at about 25,000 words. 
    • To bring this all full circle, it’s worth noting that this was the movie I started writing back in 2010 and ended up being the book I started writing during my very first NaNoWriMo back in 2011. 
    • In fact, of the seven books I have either written or have committed to writing, four of them have been NaNo projects.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of connections that brought me from A to B on this writing journey of mine. I look at the long list of events above and if you remove any one of them the chain collapses. I see all those events as the kindling and the fuel for my fire. If that’s true, then learning about NaNoWriMo was the spark. The annual challenge for writers around the globe that I found out about at just the right time because the impact that a single Kevin Smith show had on a guy named Robert which prompted him to write a blog post that I happened to read. 
Here are tonight’s three stars of the game: 
  • Kevin Smith. For writing Clerks, deciding to do a show in Kitchener of all places in 2010, and inspiring writers and filmmakers in ways that only you can do.
  • Robert Chazz Chute. For sharing your fanboiness of Kevin Smith and writing and introducing me to the world of writing (also, for that drive into Toronto to go see Kev’s movie Red State when I was suffering from post-concussion syndrome).
  • My wife. For taking a minute out of her day to look out the window and suggest that a Kevin Smith show would be a good anniversary present, and for being the bond that has held together so many of the links in my chain for nearly a quarter of a century. You’re why I’m on this oil rig, baby. Happy Anniversary!
~ Andrew

Picture Perfect

I have a friend that is a fan of doing things. If I really think about it, in reality, he’s a fan of learning things. If there is a thing he wants to and he doesn’t know how to do it, he learns it, and then he does the thing. Then he does this thing that is interesting. He stops. If he wants to get better at the thing he obviously doesn’t stop. He picks another harder or more challenging level for that thing and he keeps learning. But for his original purposes, once the thing is done he stops.

You see, my friend uses this expression that speaks to a philosophy that I have found useful when trying to be more productive:


Perfect is the enemy of done.

It’s a wonderful little sentence when you think about it. It has but six words. You could write it with four (perfect is done’s enemy), you could write it with five and fancy up some of the words (perfection runs contrary to completion), or you could bloat it out with a bunch of unnecessary stuff to make it sound more profound than it actually is (when you seek perfection you are competing against your interest of finishing the task at hand). As it is, it takes its own advice. It does its job and it is finished. It’s not perfect, but it is done.

Take note that this is a different philosophy than rushing through and doing something half-assed. That’s just being lazy and in some cases irresponsible. This expression at its core is about getting the job done but not fretting over minutiae that won’t impact the result in any appreciable way.

I often struggle with this in much of what I do creatively, in particular, my writing. When I write I have the tendency to edit as I go in an effort to have it read as I want it to read when it’s done. I am compelled to make it perfect the first time, or at least in as many iterations right then as it takes to get it just right. The end result is nice, but it takes a looooooooong time to get it there.

For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I just write. I start at word count = 0 and I write with reckless abandon until word count = 50,000. I get to the finish line in near record time (for me) but the end result is far from noteworthy. I recently opened up a short manuscript (~51,000 words) that took me less than thirty days to write. It’s actually due to my publisher by the end of October. Aside from the fact that I wrote it three years ago, there was so much wrong with it that I was too embarrassed to let it see the light of day. This example makes a bit of a mockery of the “perfect is the enemy of done” expression.

There needs to be a balance. 

I take great pride in my work and never want something to go out into the world that doesn’t meet my standards, but there is a limit to what is practical. For blog posts, I often employ the “good enough” philosophy. By and large, I think they tend to be decent and occasionally pretty good so I think my approach for these is working. For novels, especially since I’ve just landed a publisher, I need to start trusting the process. I need to get the manuscripts done and stop chasing perfection. The editing team will do their jobs and won’t let it out into the world if it’s subpar and I have to trust them.

The catalyst for this post came during and immediately after the latest solar eclipse. I was on a strict timeline to get set up. I had to prepare the telescope in terms of position and focus and get my camera setup and attached to the telescope. I wanted to do a time-lapse composite image that required shots every 15-20 minutes. My goal was a sequence of 8-10 pictures that spanned the range of full sun to maximum eclipse for my geographic location (~80% coverage).

Nature, being what she is, would not wait and I hadn’t taken the day off work to do this so I had limited time to get set up in between replying to emails and whathaveyou. I would have to settle for “good enough” and cross my fingers. Better planning would have helped a lot. Some observations:

  • I did some test shots the day before so I’d know approximately where to have the focus knop on the telescope and what kind of exposure I needed, at least for a full sun. 
  • I didn’t charge my battery (oops!) 
  • I did have a backup filter I could use if I ran into problems. 
  • I didn’t factor in the angle of the sun and realized that I’d need to be lying on the ground to set up each shot. 
  • I did realize that I could set my rig up on a table to help with this. 
  • I didn’t realize the table shook every time I so much as breathed on it. 
  • The clouds did cooperate (somewhat miraculously) and I managed to get shots every 15 minutes or so throughout the whole 2+ hour event

When I got home I opened up the images and found that I got quite a few good ones. I really wanted to get the pictures up on the internet quickly before the hype died down so I opened up the basic image editor for Windows 10 and did an “auto enhance” on each one, cropped it square and then jacked up the warmth to give them a more sun-like colour. However, the exposure wasn’t identical for each of the pictures and the “auto enhance” feature only did so much to equalize them.

I started to muck with them in Windows 10 and then looked at the clock. I was running out of time and didn’t want to be up all night, so I cut bait on that idea and I put them all into GIMP (basically a free PhotoShop). I was pretty sure that most people would do the standing line of images with totality in the middle. I didn’t have a pic of totality so I was thinking of using either the maximum eclipse or full sun as the focal point. I mucked about with the layout for a bit and tried to come up with something different.

Before too long, inspiration struck and I had my layout. The colours were still off, though and I wasn’t completely okay with how it was looking. A quick time check told me I had precious few moments left so I saved what I had and stepped away from it. A few minutes later, I came back and took a look with fresh eyes, and do you know what? I liked it. I really liked it. The imbalance in the colour worked. It looked real. It looked organic.

It wasn’t perfect but it was done.

I have been using the expression, “Be better, not perfect,” as my personal life motto for a while now and it was at this moment in front of my eclipse photo creation I came to the realization that art and people have at least one thing in common.

Sometimes beauty lies within the imperfections.

“La Fleur d’Eclipse” (c) 2017 Andrew Butters

~ Andrew

The Importance of Others

I have touched on the subject of online writing groups a couple of times before but this time I would like to come at it from a different angle. I thought I would share a bit about what I love about one of the writing groups I am in and then see what some other writers I know have to say about a group they are in as well.

There are all kinds of online writing communities. Some are straight-up critique groups, others are for folks all with the same publisher, some are there for people to shameless self-promote, and still others are there to help with motivation, word counting, and goal tracking.

I am in half a dozen online writing groups on Facebook incorporating all but the shameless self-promotion, but I have to tell you my favourite group of them all brings in all the elements and then some. As someone who is generally annoyed by people but is also fascinated by them and values friendships this group is a little slice of internet heaven for me.

Here are just a handful of the things that make this writing group my first destination in the morning when I open up Facebook and usually the last place I visit online before I got to bed:

  • Advice in this group is never dispensed without someone having asked for it. 
  • There are no agendas.
  • It is not political (except for a unanimous distaste for the current U.S. President).
  • Occasional shameless self-promotion is welcome, but more often than not group members are promoting other group members. 
  • It is not always about writing. Friendship and emotional support are in abundance. 
  • Inappropriateness is high, but respect for everyone, their beliefs, and their experiences is paramount. 
  • It is diverse, not just in writing experience, but in age, gender, and geography. 
  • There are two different views on the Oxford comma (those who are in favour of it and those who are wrong). 

As you can see, there is a lot there to like. But I am just one person. So that is why I reached out to a number of writers I know who are either in my favourite writing group or another one of which they are fond. Here’s what they had to say:

“I love our group. No downsides. We are shoulders, soundboards, and friends beyond multiple borders. Filled with people who changed my life in more ways than just writing.”

“This group is about respecting and caring for one another and the work we’re doing, rather than using one another for our own means.”

“Respect, encouragement both in real life and fictional, friendship, love and a true safe space amidst the faceless 1’s and 0’s of the digital social media universe.”

“As one of the few members who hasn’t had any fiction published, I like being in this group because I still receive a lot of tips and pointers, encouragement for my non-fiction writing, and encouragement to get off my ass and actually write some fiction. There’s more to be had here: lots of love and respect, a lot of humor… and some of you are just darn cute.”

“I’d heard that anyone can achieve their writing goals simply by hard work and honing their craft, but I have discovered that’s nonsense. Behind every Harry Potter is a Ron, a Hermione, a Mad-Eye Moody, and a Dumbledore. Everyone needs a team, a group of people you can trust, be yourself with, even if you’ve got a bit of the Voldemorts that day, and share in your victories. I was lucky enough to be invited into a group like that and I would urge others to find their peeps and stick with them.”

“Unfailing, unquestioning love and support, including a well-aimed kick in the ass when it’s needed.”

“It’s a safe, non-judgmental place for [us]. No one cares if you are a newbie, a wanabe, or a published author. People will listen to your ideas or concerns and offer advice when asked for, hugs when needed and lots and lots of talk about no pants and cookies which just makes my day 

There you have it, folks. The votes have been tallied and the results are in. Writers, who are stereotypically known for being solitary hermits who hammer away at a keyboard in some writerly-looking cave only coming up for coffee and chocolate actually value the interaction and camaraderie that comes with being part of a community.

I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. It is nice to know that you are part of something bigger than yourself and even nicer to know that there are so many of us out there who value the importance of others.

~ Andrew

WTF? :-P [sic]

Looking at the title of this post you might think the topic could be any number of things. This is not a post about profanity, though I have written a blog post touching on that topic that was quite successful. In fact, that post currently sits second on my all-time views list behind by sneakily-titled Size Matters post. Nor is this a post about punctuation, though with the legal vindication of the Oxford comma coming this week I could have touched on it. Nor is this (necessarily) a post about the evolution of language and how today the word “literally” literally includes a definition that means “figuratively”, though that’s probably the closest I can get to describing the topic.

Today I want to talk about abbreviations, acronyms, and emojis.

Now, I am generally of the opinion that a person shouldn’t police another person’s language. In fact, a friend of mine argued quite effectively with me once about how this is not only pedantic but also at best culturally insensitive and at worst racist.

That said, SRSLY. WTF?

Look, I can LOL and WTF with the best of them, but when I see stuff that’s exclusively gibberish it makes me cringe. In my head, I’m very much a “Use your words!” type of guy. If it’s a friend I’ll respond with something snarky or smartass-y but most of the time my internal monologue is freaking out. For me, it’s about time and place. It’s about context. Sometimes a smiley face is a perfect response. Other times it is too casual or aloof. In other words, know your audience.

I’ve seen people completely wig out over the fact that every tweet, post, or comment isn’t written with perfect spelling and impeccable grammar. I presented many of the same arguments my friend did when we spoke on this topic to one individual and was subsequently accused of contributing to the dumbing down of society and being anti-education.

I will agree that in some contexts my expectation is that text should be grammatically sound with no spelling mistakes. Take as an example a job application or resume for a job in which written and oral communication in English is essential. Alternatively, I can tell you that I’ve personally hired people who have submitted resumes that were sub-par in the areas of grammar and spelling. They were computer programmers and they needed a base level of English skills (oral, comprehensive, and written) to be proficient. English wasn’t their first language, but holy hell could they write code.

Additionally, some abbreviations have been around for decades or even longer. Do any of these look familiar?

  • i.e. – Latin, id est, meaning “that is” and used to shorten the phrase “in other words”.
  • Et al. – Latin, et alia, meaning “and others” and used to round out a list of names instead of writing them all out.
  • e.g. – Latin (surprise!), exempli gratia, meaning “for the sake of example” and used when, well, giving an example (e.g. this list).

Tangent:

This reminds me of one of my high school math teachers. He was at the chalkboard one day and writing something out and someone asked him a question and he didn’t know the answer. He turned around and while juggling his chalk he said, “I don’t know. I would rather tell you that than make something up or dance around it. I’ll let you in on a secret, though. Most of the time when a teacher doesn’t know the answer they’ll say, ‘It’s Latin.'”
The class appreciated his honesty and on we went with the lesson. A few classes later he was at the chalkboard again and was giving an example of something and he wrote “i.e.” on the board and then another phrasing of whatever it was he had just written. Almost immediately one of my classmates thrust her hand in the air. “Sir,” she said. “What does the ‘i.e.’ stand for?”

The teacher’s shoulders started to bounce as his laughter overcame him. Within a few seconds, the laughter spread to everyone in the classroom. The teacher turned around and with tears streaming down his cheeks from laughing so hard managed to blurt out, “It’s Latin.”

I never did find out if the girl who asked the question genuinely didn’t know what “i.e.” meant or if she just saw a golden opportunity for a laugh and took it.

Given that abbreviations, short forms, and other informal words and phrases are so widely used, what makes some of the common terms used today unacceptable? It seems that if they originate from Latin then they get a pass but if they originate from social media they are trash words that have no place.

I can see both sides of the argument and as mentioned earlier I break it down into context. More specifically, formal versus informal. To me, any formal correspondence (work emails, resumes, letters [do people still write letters?], schoolwork, etc) should be held to a different standard than informal correspondence (text messages, casual emails, social media posts & comments). That means in formal correspondence no emojis and no non-industry acronyms. You can GTFO with that stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

I asked my daughter and two of her friends (all in the 9th grade) if they felt the need to use texting lingo in any of their schoolwork and they looked at me like I had two heads. Granted, it’s a small sample size but all of them agreed that using “LOL” on a test, paper, or as part of their homework would be unprofessional. One girl heard of someone using text message based acronyms in a paper and they received a zero (I suspect this might be an urban legend propagated by the English teachers in order to scare students into utilizing a more historically conventional vocabulary).

Here’s an experiment that you can help me with. A teacher gives her class the following instructions:

Email me a short paragraph of three or four sentences explaining your thoughts on the use of profanity in society.

On a scale of 0 to 10 (ten being perfect), how would you grade the following responses?

I think that there is a time and a place for profanity. You can’t just run around saying, “What the Fuck?” and “Get the fuck out!”, but some sometimes, “Well, shit,” sums it up perfectly. Also, in many languages and cultures different English words mean different things. I don’t know how my words will be interpreted and vice versa. The best thing to do in that situation is to add a smiley face. 

Put your response and rationale in the comments below. If Blogger is being a pain and won’t let you do that then you can email me at potatochipmath@gmail.com and I’ll paste it into the comments (let me know if you want to be identified (and how) or if you’d rather remain anonymous).

~ Andrew

What’d I Miss?

It’s been a while. Thank you for not forgetting about me. Aside from my open letter to McDonald’s (which, if you’re listening McD’s, I am still really pissed about) I haven’t posted anything in more than six months. That’s a long hiatus, but… BUT I have some exciting reasons as to why the absence.

First of all, after my last post back in August 2016, I started a project which would have a significant impact on my writing career. I renovated the basement bedroom of my house and turned it into a writing room. A friend of mine down in Boston, Richard B. Wood, did this earlier in the year and dubbed his new creative space The Lair. Being a homegrown lad from The Great White North, the name for my space needed a Canadian touch and after much deliberation (entirely too much, some would say) I decided on Lair North, Eh? though around the house it commonly goes by The Writing Room.

Having a dedicated space to go and have uninterrupted time to create was of paramount importance. If I was going to make the leap from being a writer to being a published author I was going to need to take it seriously (more seriously than I had been) and give writing its own time and place. The room needed to be comforting and inspiring and filled with all the tools to help me bring my ideas to life.

I still need to put a few finishing touches on it (I need a small end table, a few pieces of art, and some blinds) but the transformation was extensive.

Before:

After:

Everything in the new room has a purpose:

  • The little half-sized guitar is there because I occasionally write lyrics (really the only form of poetry I am capable of). 
  • The is some art that’s there and more to come because the presence of art pleases my muse. 
  • I have my NaNoWriMo victories on the wall hanging above a photo of my aforementioned friend, Richard, pointing his finger at me with the heading “Shouldn’t You Be Writing?”. These are great motivators. 
  • What was once a door to get into the circuit breaker panel is now a chalkboard (and also a door to get into the circuit breaker panel) for keeping lists and scribbling random notes. 
  • There is my wife’s BA (Political Science) and my B.Sc (General Science) from the University of Waterloo. These are accomplishments that we are both very proud of. 
  • There’s a chair for reading, relaxing, napping, and thinking (Winnie The Pooh has honey and I have my La-Z-Boy). 
  • A lamp because… well, we had an extra lamp and nowhere to put it. 
  • Books. There are lots and lots of books. The whole family has books on those shelves. I just wish I had more room for more books. 
  • Finally, to the left of me when I’m sitting at the keyboard there is my shelf of inspiration and usefulness. 
    • The top of this little bookcase sits books that my friends have written, music CDs they’ve created, and one bottle of beer that my friend Jon crafted (links to all the stuff below). 
    • Underneath that shelf are reference books, how-to books, Stephen King’s On Writing, a space pen, a Rubik’s Cube, an Oxford English Dictionary (because Webster can kiss my butt), and some golf balls from my brother-in-law’s memorial golf tournament (Ryan passed eight years ago today – also my birthday – and I miss him every day).

The rules of the room are simple:

  1. Closed door = Do not disturb.
  2. Don’t touch the laptop (it’s super finicky and on its last legs).
  3. If you’re done with a book, put it in a bookcase (alphabetical by author last name, or on the shelf of inspiration ordered by height).
  4. If you want to read a book, take one (just bring it back when you’re done. See rule #3).

So, what has happened since the room became a usable space?

Well, as some of you may know, a couple years ago my daughter had surgery to correct a severe case of scoliosis. My wife, not finding much helpful information for parents going through something similar, started a family blog so we could share our story and hopefully help other families. The blog was a great success, with families from all over the world finding the site and learning from our experiences.

Wanting to bring our story to as many people as possible, and always with something more to say, I compiled all the blog posts and sectioned them off into various phases (waiting for a surgery date, preparing for a second opinion, pre-op, surgery, post-surgery, etc.) Before each phase, I added my own take on what was happening at that time. I also added an introduction bringing everyone up to speed on our daughter and what life was like before the diagnosis, a question and answer section, and a lessons-learned section at the end.

It was a lot of work, but it was work I was able to accomplish, uninterrupted, at Lair North, Eh? over the course of a month. Once that was done, I got right into NaNoWriMo for the sixth year in a row and every day over the course of November you could hear the sounds of me typing and talking to myself. I am happy to say that for the fourth time in those six years I managed to write more than 50,000 words and win NaNo!

Then, a break for the holidays where I fiddled here and there with a few things and tried to figure out what to do next. Come the new year, however, something was brewing. I was showing the scoliosis book to a few trusted friends to get feedback and it was suggested that I get it in the hands of one of their publishers.

I won’t go into details (to protect the innocent and all that jazz), but suffice it to say that the manuscript for Bent But Not Broken: A Family’s Scoliosis Journey made it into the hands of Oghma Creative Media and a few weeks later I signed a contract to have the book published!

So, what happens now?

Well, the first step was to get all the words in the manuscript looking good for the fine editors over at Oghma. The next step was to provide all the images that would be used and place an image tag in the manuscript so the formatting people would know where stuff goes. Then, I need to caption all the images (close to fifty of them) and secure permission to publish any of the images that were not either a family photo or a medical image from my daughter’s personal medical record.

Once all that was done, off to the publisher it went. There, an editor will look it over and the process of fixing and re-writing begins. A lot of the book was blog posts and I’m hoping there won’t be any substantive changes made to those since they were written in-the-moment. I expect the narrative parts that I wrote will tighten up and give the book a nice pace.

At some point down the road, once we are all happy with the words there will be copy edits, formatting, and cover design.

When it is all said and done, at some point in the first half of 2018, we should have the book in stores and available for download, and who knows, maybe later on next year you’ll see another title from me hitting the shelves as well.

~ Andrew


Who’s on my shelf of inspiration?

I Am a Writer Because…

*Blows dust off blog*

*Coughs*

*Checks date of last post*

June 9, 2016. Yikes, it’s been almost two months. What happened? I used to do this all the time. Well, not all the time, but at least once a week. Hell, at one point I used to do this every Sunday. Life happened. Laziness happened. Fatigue happened. Self-doubt happened. Excuses happened. Too many of them to count and enough to feel shame and embarrassed over.

So why is now any different? Well, for starters I am alone. Not forever alone or anything dramatic like that, but temporarily a bachelor. For the next seven days, my wife has the kids (plus one exchange student) on a road trip and I am left home alone to work. The first evening was eventful, having eaten a dinner of ramen noodles and a chocolate milkshake. Hey, I walked the 2.5km to the store and back to get the shake so cut me some slack. I then watched the Blue Jays win in fine fashion over the reigning World Series Champions.

Today I rolled out of bed whenever and sat in front of the TV to watch the Olympics. I did manage to make a respectable omelet for brunch and even managed to shower and get dressed before 2pm. Realizing that I needed to get off my ass and do some walking (gotta get my 10,000 steps!) I decided that I’d do something different. With my mobile data plan in the shitter this month, I didn’t feel like paying premium overage charges to catch Pokémon. So, I put on my running shoes and I grabbed a book. I am currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing.

I walked out the door with my cheap giveaway sunglasses, and King’s book, and I started walking. I was in the section of the book titled “C.V.” It’s where King walks us through how he got to where he was; as a person and as a writer. If the subtitle to the book is “A memoir of the craft,” then this section of the book is the memoir of the man. As I am reading I get this feeling, this sense of awe and inspiration mixed with panic and self-doubt, that’s hard to describe. It consisted of two simultaneous and conflicting thoughts.

The first one came as I decided to stop along this quiet multi-purpose path. I was about halfway through my walk and I sat down on a park bench donated in the memory of someone long since departed. The thought went like this: I am not worthy of calling myself a writer because I have not suffered enough. Which I think is total bullshit, but in that moment it did cross my mind. Some truly great writers have suffered and there are definitely schools of thought out there that would assert that the greatness came from the suffering. King suffered. He had two kids, a shitty apartment in an asshole – sorry, armpit – of a town, a low paying job, and no telephone. He then sold the paperback rights to Carrie and, poof! It was like winning the lottery.

I mean, King has lived through some serious shit, man, but from an early age he wanted to be a writer and throughout all the tumultuous times he experienced he kept at it. Even when he thought there was no hope of ever “making it” he kept at it. Then, in the same heartbeat the first thought came, so did the second. King isn’t a writer because he suffered. King is a writer because he writes.

Stephen King is a writer because he writes.

By the time I got home inspiration struck and I needed to put this down on “paper”. I am a writer. Sure, I have a job that pays me a nice salary and gives me twenty days of paid vacation every year. Sure, I’m also a bevy of other things: a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. All these come with familial and social commitments as well. Sure, I’m middle aged and in desperate need of at least 10,000 steps a day to avoid catastrophic health problems. But… BUT… when I’m not fulfilling any of those obligations I do the only thing that I’ve ever felt compelled to do: I write.

It’s not always a lot. It’s not always shared. It’s not always submitted for publication. It’s almost always not done for money. But I do it. I write. And it doesn’t matter which way you look at it. Whether you say, “I write, therefore I am a writer,” or, “I am a writer, therefore I write,” it does not matter. There is no chicken and egg in this scenario. There is only breakfast.

~ Andrew

Support Booktrope Authors

So as of May 31 Booktrope will be no more. 

This means very little for me professionally, but it means a lot to the hybrid publishing industry, 

and it means a whole hell of a lot to a large number of my friends. I’m not sure what I can do to help aside from supporting them and helping promote their work, so that’s precisely what I’ll do.

I’ve set up this handy little shortcut that you can click and find a whole whack of talented authors to buy

books from:

http://bit.ly/helpBTauthors


To all my friends wondering what the hell is going to happen now I say stay strong and keep writing. 


You got this.

You Owe Me Nothing

I was going to do a completely different post this week, but then I came across this train wreck of a comments thread on Goodreads and I just had to voice my thoughts on it. Unfortunately, the author (of the book, not the review) has since deleted all of his comments, fortunately, some genius decided to capture it via archives.is (which should scare the crap out of anyone who suffers from the delusion that they can post something online and then bury it later).

http://archive.is/rFgtE

I had to read the whole thread because apparently I enjoy the carnage of watching someone completely self-destruct. Every time the author commented I would think, he can’t possibly make this any worse, and then he went and made it worse. The real work of art here is how he swiftly took one negative review of his book and turned hundreds, if not thousands of potential readers into people 100% guaranteed to avoid anything he’s ever written or will ever write. That expression, “There’s no such thing as bad press”? Well, Dylan Saccoccio is finding out the hard way that there are clearly exceptions to that rule.

http://memecrunch.com/meme/6N7MG/picard-do-not-engage/image.jpg

There are many reputable authors out there who will all give a writer the same advice on responding to reader reviews: don’t do it. DO NOT ENGAGE! Reviews on book sites like Goodreads, Amazon, Barns & Noble are not for writers. Reviews are for readers. You can write the best god-damned book the world has ever seen and there will still be people that think it sucks donkey balls. Get over it. You know what should thrill you to the teeth? The fact that someone literally took hours out of their day to spend time with something that you created. You may have even received some money for this transaction. If you are a writer, it’s almost guaranteed to be less than a cup of coffee, but someone out there, probably a complete stranger, spent time AND money on your creation. If that’s not enough for you then I think you’re in the wrong business.

You know what readers owe us? Nothing. Nada. Bupkis. Zilch. Diddly squat. Nothing. Did I say nothing? I did? Well, I’ll say it again, NOTHING. To put it bluntly, readers owe us exactly one-fifth of sweet fuck all.

Robert Niles has a couple great quotes and was speaking as it pertains to reporting, but this sentence is wholly applicable for all types of content:

“They [citizens] have the right, and ability, to go about their lives without ever once glancing at your publication…”

In short, by simply picking up a copy of your book or stopping by your blog and giving your work more than a second glance they’ve already given you a whole lot.

Be thankful for that.

In summary, read my stuff. Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, or maybe you’re somewhere in between. Either way, I’m glad you spent some time with it. That is, after all, one of the reasons I create it in the first place.

Shameless plugs:

~ Andrew.

I’d Buy That For A Dollar

After an unplanned hiatus, I am back, hopefully with some consistency. Mother’s Day, the long weekend at the cottage, and the fallout from the big garage sale / birthday party sleepover have occupied my last few Sundays, but I think things are back to normal now.

The garage sale actually got me thinking about this week’s blog post. As I stood on my driveway in front of tables upon tables of our unwanted or not-so-useful stuff (seriously, we had a set of fireplace tools – and we don’t have a fireplace!) the goal was simple: get rid of it. ALL of it. If it was in the garage sale pile there was a 0% chance it was making it back into our house. Anything that didn’t sell was to be immediately packed up and donated to Value Village (who support local nonprofits in our city).

Photo by Stuart Miles at http://freedigitalphotos.net

When you’re in this situation it’s important to keep your eye on the goal, which is to get rid of your stuff. The goal is not to make as much money as possible off your stuff. If there was anything that we thought we could get real money for we put it aside and are going to sell it on Kijiji. This is a situation where everybody wins. We make a little bit of cash for our stuff, lots of people get things they think they want or need for really cheap, and Value Village gets a bunch of donations (where they are turned around and sold for really cheap, with the proceeds helping local organizations).

One thing I noticed about the garage sale shoppers was they almost all had the same thing in common, and that was the desire to get whatever they wanted for as cheap as they could without it being considered stealing. As such, a whole lot of things sold for one dollar. It didn’t matter what it was either, a buck was the magic number. In some cases, it was four things for a dollar (like books) or two for a dollar (like RCA cables for a stereo), but the magic number was clearly a dollar.

That got me thinking about books.

A very popular price point for books on Amazon is 99¢. Which, if you’re buying a full-length novel is a spectacularly good price. More popular still though? FREE. Yup, as it turns out giving stuff away for free is still popular with consumers. It won’t pay the bills, but it could end up working in your favour in the long run. If you have a series of books, for example, having the first one free is a great way to get people hooked on your product and coming back for more, dollars in hand. Drug dealers have been using this tactic for decades except writers are selling a different kind of fantasy. Robert Chazz Chute is taking this approach for his Hit Man books (great stories featuring a hit man by the name of Jesus Diaz) and I’d recommend you read the first in the series Bigger Than Jesus and see if it strikes your fancy (I downloaded the first one for free, bought the second one right away, was a beta reader for the third, and I loved them all).

Another way to get people hooked on your stuff is to write a serial. As Will Van Stone Jr. explains on Kate Tilton‘s website, a serial can be a great way to highlight your creative storytelling ability, and more importantly, your character development (things much more difficult to do in short fiction). This segues nicely into one of the other reasons I’ve been quiet on the blog lately. I was picked up by the OCH Literary Society to write for them. My task, aside from some occasional blogging? Serial fiction. *gulp*

Well, as my last post (and my first blog post for OCH) mentioned I had an idea so it was time to have the rubber hit the road (or fingers to hit the keys, as it were) and get started on it. I spent the first half of the month working on it and as I got deeper and deeper into the first installment I began to see, in a practical sense, what Will Van Stone Jr. explained in his article. People who read this blog have an idea of my writing style, but what they’re reading is mostly first person non-creative stuff. With the OCH serial, I have been given an opportunity to not just hone my skills in the creative fiction arena, but also showcase my style, storytelling ability, and character development to a larger audience. As nervous as this makes me, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t totally pumped.

I’ve got stuff that I’ll sell you for a dollar later in the year (and the years that follow), but for now, have a read. It’s a few thousand words every few weeks, and its’ free. The only thing I can’t promise is that it won’t be addictive.

The Book of Good: Installment 1

~ Andrew