Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge. Write a story in five sentences and fewer than 100 words. Seeing as I write a little something to commemorate the passing of my brother-in-law, Ryan, on my birthday (March 13) I decided I’d use this flash fiction challenge as a means to do that.
Here’s what I came up with:
Seven years ago we lost him. Recently, Facebook introduced a memories feature that recaps your day from years past. I’ve been wondering what those memories would look like from the day he died and how I would deal with them. Turning memories off altogether, or for a specific day, is an option but that day is also my birthday. I will leave the feature on and try to create more good memories so I will be reminded of how much I am loved as I scroll … scroll … scroll towards the bottom and remember how much he is missed.
For those who may not be aware, CleanReader is an app that (until recently) sold books and allowed the user to set a “cleanliness” setting. Once that setting was established the app would scan through the book and replace all objectionable words at that cleanliness level (e.g. “fuck” would likely be eliminated at a low setting but you’d have to jack it up to squeaky clean levels to get rid of the words less objectionable to puritan eyes).
Once authors knew this was going on a great many of them went completely bat shit crazy for a bevy of reasons. In the link from the previous sentence Chuck Wendig talks about consent. This comes in a couple of flavours.
First, authors/publishers weren’t even asked if their works could be sold in conjunction with the app. Not so much as a single email saying:
“Oh hey there content creator/owner! We have this app that’s going to materially alter the text in your work and we’d like to sell your varying levels of offensive literature alongside it to maximize the efficiency of the bowdlerization process. Is that cool?”
Anyhow, once authors/publishers started to find out the floodgates opened and requests, nay, demands started pouring in for books to be removed. The popular indie author website Smashwords demanded that ALL its titles be removed. Legally the app company had to comply, and to their credit they did so in rapid fashion. Not to their credit, however, is the fact that they had to do it posthaste because they didn’t do any of the appropriate consultation to begin with.
Next there’s the obvious objection from authors that the words in the books are precisely the words that were intended for the reader. No others. Order from what’s on the menu please. No substitutions! Writers take their words very seriously, and they should. Words are our art. Manipulating them (and manipulating them for profit, no less) without consent is illegal (it’s more legally grey in the US but it’s black and white pretty much everywhere else. It’s the literary equivalent of the metric system. Take a gander at Moral Rights).
“But you can buy a copy of a book and mark it up all you want.”
True. If someone wanted to buy a book and cross out all the “fucks” and write “darn” over top, that’s fine with me. So if this app had a setting that let the user say something like, “If you encounter the word “fuck” in this book please replace it with the word “darn”. If you encounter the word…” you get the idea. It would be the digital equivalent of taking a pen to a book they bought. I’d have to be okay with that. Of course, that’s assuming that the digital copy of they book they have is actually theirs, and get this, it’s almost always not.
In just about every instance you’re not actually buying the ebook outright. You’re buying the privilege, by way of a licence, of reading said ebook on a personal device. In this case, it’s tough nuts fuckknockers, you get to read it as is, just as if you borrowed a physical book from the library. First sale doctrine does not apply.
In summary, the not asking permission to bundle up book sales with this piece of shit app pisses me off. The fact that they’re manipulating an author’s words without permission pisses me off. The fact that some self-righteous app creator just up and decided what words were “bad” REALLY pisses me off. Sure, there are tolerance settings, but by whose assessment? The self-righteous app creator, that’s who. They’ve decided not just what words to replace (and the tolerance level at which to replace them) but also what to replace them with. Chuck Wendig has a nice round-up post here with some fabulous examples. By my assessment it is censorship, and as we learned two posts ago I’m not cool with that. This debate even started a glorious pissing contest between Jenny Trout and I on Twitter in which she went all arms-waiving-bonkers (it was good times).
So, if you’re one of the very few who think CleanReader is just the type of thing for you and you want books that appeal to your “sensibilities” I suggest you just go find some books that meet your morally high standards and then you can save yourself the app purchase.
Alternatively, and I’m going to borrow a wonderful turn of phrase from Chuck Wendig here, you can jolly well fucking write one yourself.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, and close to keeping pace (or right on pace, or even slightly ahead of schedule) then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Welcome to the saggy middle.
If you’re like me this represents two moments of opposing emotions:
First, you’ve already written more words that you have yet to write. It’s all downhill from here, baby! These are good times and certainly cause for celebration. Take a moment to soak it all in and realize that even if your laptop were to melt in some freak background microwave radiation solar flare electromagnetic accident that you would have around 25,000 words backed up somewhere and ready to use (thank you Dropbox!)
Second, you still have more than 20,000 words to write. This damn journey is uphill BOTH WAYS! Don’t let that moment soak in though. For one, it’ll mess up your mojo you just gained from the awesome milestone of passing the halfway mark. Also, it’s too darn depressing and wallowing in it will sink your back end.
Saggy middle. Sinking back end. What is this, a book about turning 40? This looks like a job for MOTIVATION!
Some people use the resources right from the NaNoWriMo website (profile inbox, discussion boards, etc…) Another good resource is another writer. There are tons of videos, articles, blog posts out there where famous faces like Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Chuck Wendig.
Another good one is go to the mall. I’m serious, especially at this time of year when people are either gearing up for Thanksgiving in the U.S. or Christmas everywhere else. Sit on a bench or chair with your laptop open and just wait for all the wonderful character traits and ideas to walk past. Imagine the conversations of the people across the aisle. Find ways to shut up that snot nosed brat screaming for the latest whatever-it-is at a mother who looks like she just dropped her last nerve in the garbage with the empty cup from her Chai Latte. Plus, the sooner you get motivated and writing the sooner you can get out of the hell pit of doom, destruction, and despair that is The Mall in the weeks leading up to December 25.
Me? Keeping in line with my last post on community I have a standard go-to for motivation in my writers’ group on Facebook. Others, they head straight to Twitter for words of encouragement and inspiration. Either way, what could be better that reaching out and commiserating with a group of people all facing the same sort of challenges. Reach out to them (remember, “Ask and you shall receive?” Well I’m not making this up, folks. That shit works!)
Ask them for a boost, a shoulder to cry on, an empty face to yell at, an idea. They’ll help you out and whip your saggy sinking ass into shape. Even if they’re jerks about it, they won’t be, but even if they are, don’t worry about it. You’ve just been given a great opportunity to kill them off in your book!
I fired my first gun today. Discharged my first weapon? However you’re supposed to say it I can tell you that it was awesome, and not at all what I expected.
I briefly considered making the subheading the title of the post but then thought I’d catch heat for posting click-bait stuff so I went with something a little more onomatopoeic. Given this is a post on the topic of guns I think it’s a safe play, but on with the story.
First off, let’s get this out of the way. This is not a post on what I, or anyone else, thinks about handguns and the laws and/or rights involved. This is a post about my first experience firing one, and why I decided to go to the range and do it.
It all started with this scene I wrote for what will end up being either Book #2 or Part II of Book #1. It was my first murder. Ex military vet takes his sidearm and blows a hole through someone’s head at point blank range. After writing the scene I never really gave it much thought. That was, until I read a recent blog post by Chuck Wending of the topic of writing scenes involving firearms, and how it’s important to get the details right.
Step 1 according to Chuck: “If you want to write about guns, go fire one”
Whoops. I had already failed. In my defence I am Canadian and this isn’t exactly a haven for handgun owners. Lots of hunting rifles kicking around (though I’ve never even fired a .22), but pistols? Not so much.
Well, as luck would have it I was in a wedding yesterday in Plymouth, Michigan. It was just a 3.5 hour drive (plus border wait time) and as I was driving to the church I saw various signs for gun shows and gun ranges and what-have-you. It dawned on me that I could probably get someone from the wedding to take me to a range!
Sure enough, I met some fantastically wonderful people at the wedding (none of them Chuck Norris, though this ex-Viet Nam vet at my table looked a lot like Robert Duval) and a good number of them gave me a lot of information on guns and gun ownership in the state of Michigan. One of them was even kind enough to offer to take me to the range after breakfast the next day (Robert Duval’s lookalike’s son).
After signing a few sheets of paper and handing over my passport it was decided that due to the nature of the scene I was writing, the character doing the shooting would be using a military issue 1911 pistol. Loreya, a former marine who really knows her firearms gave me a brief history lesson on the weapon, a pair of goggles and ear protection, and sent me on my way with my range escort and his wife (who recorded parts of the session for me). I really wish I had asked who made the specific model I was given (because every gun manufacturer makes a 1911) but it was a .45 calibre and looked a heck of a lot like this (my range buddy thinks it was a Colt too):
The first thing I learned: it was heavy. Much heavier than I expected. I am told that there are many pistol out there that are lighter but my guy would be using this so this is what I fired. It was heavy. The wrist and fingers on my non-dominant hand are also very weak and having broken a slight sweat I found it difficult to pull the slide back when I needed to. This is not a weapon for not-so-strong or untrained or inexperienced person to be packin’.
The second thing I learned: guns are loud. Having never been to a gun range before the only reference I had was a few YouTube videos and television or movies. Even with the earmuffs on you got a real appreciation for how loud these things are. Apparently the specific bullet manufacturing, in addition to its calibre, and the type of weapon being fired all factor in to the sound you hear. I was expecting “pop” but my gun went “bang” or possibly even “pow”. Either way, it was loud. Before I started shooting I heard my first live gunshot from two lanes over. I’m not sure what he was firing but from the sound of it I can only assume it was a small hand held cannon. Forget “pop”, “bang”, or “pow”. This damn thing went “BOOM!”
Here’s my first ever shot. There’s lots of other weapons being fired but you can probably pick out the sound of my shot. You tell me what sound it makes:
Before you ask, yes, I hit the target. It wasn’t quite centered from left to right and was a bit high. I started at 25 feet, which the range master informed me was a bit far away for what I was trying to accomplish. At that distance I didn’t get into the center and everything was going left (just like my golf shots).
The third thing I learned was if one is right handed, one should close their left eye and not their right. This small change improved things greatly, but I was still shooting a bit to the left and a little low, at one point nailing my target pretty close to his nuts.
The fourth thing I learned is that the casings fly out of the gun really fast and then bounce off the walls or ceiling or whatever else they hit, like my face. I was lucky enough that on my first shot the casing bounced off the wall and hit the person shooting my video. She picked it up and gave it to me after.
Range master brought the target in to 12 feet, explaining that that was more of the distance I would be working with. We made sure the chamber was empty and the clip was out and then we did a little test. He brought the target to me from 12 feet. The instant I saw it move I was to reach down, pick up the gun,get two hands on it, and pretend to squeeze off a round.
The fifth thing I learned was if I’m ever being rushed by an assailant from 12 feet or less and I have access to a loaded, unholstered weapon I may as well have access to cooked spaghetti for all the good it will do me.
At 12 feet I was much better, emptying two clips into the center rectangle and even putting one right on the “X”, with only one missing a bit low. Then things got interesting. Range master (I really wish I had gotten his name! Bad researcher I am) suggested I aim for the little guy up in the top left corner. he put a little sticker in the middle of him so I’d know if I hit the sweet spot.
I squeezed off something like 9 shots at the little guy and 6 of them connected, with 1 even grazing the sticker. Two of the three I missed, missed way high but stayed on the paper. Neither range master nor myself had much explanation for it. I just forgot to aim, twice, in almost the exact same way. It was strange.
This is where I learned my last lesson of the day: the world is a much safer place if I am not in possession of a firearm.
Special thanks go out to:
Chuck Wendig – for his timely blog post
Alexander and Stephanie – for having me at their wedding and seating me at a great table
Robert and his wife Victoria – for keeping me company, taking me to the range, teaching me stuff, and recording/photographing
Loreya – for her service in the marines, the history lesson, and for being just so darned cheerful and helpful getting me set up for my first shoot
Range Master whose name I did not get (and for that I feel genuine shame) – for his THIRTY YEARS of service on the Detroit Police Force, and for all his tips and tutelage on the range
I don’t get a lot of traffic on this blog, but I get enough that I’m not embarrassed by the numbers on a month-to-month basis. Regardless of my readership numbers I’ve always struggled with the best mechanism for managing comments. I have tried a few things ranging from “wide open free for all” to “must sign in with an account” before finally settling on Blogger’s built-in “word verification”. It held up fairly well until one fateful day in May when I published a post about my encounter with Chuck Wendig.
Since the Wendig post my blog comments have been inundated with spam from all directions. Maybe inundated is too strong a word, but it’s definitely a noticeable increase. The good news is the comments don’t make it through to the website, so at least Blogger’s algorithm recognizes that they don’t belong, but the thing is I don’t get a lot of comments (see previous mention of traffic) so I have email notifications set up to send them to me when they come in, which unfortunately includes the spam comments as well.
Don’t get the idea that I think this is really that big of a deal, it’s not, but I do find it interesting for a couple of reasons and it poses a couple of questions, the first of which is “What was it about the Chuck Wendig post that brought on the spam bots?” I’ve posted many things that were more widely read and/or controversial and it hasn’t received this much attention. Maybe it was just a timing issue and would have happened regardless of what I posted? Who knows.
All I can say is that it’s all a little disappointing. Not that my spam to actual comments ratio is terrible but rather that the spam itself is terrible. Quite frankly, if I’m going to get spam I’d at least prefer if it was interesting. Here’s a sampling:
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Of course, each one comes with its own “click this” or “check out my website” link.
On top of it all there isn’t even a single mention of how I can increase the size of my penis. Seriously, it’s like they’re not even trying anymore.
As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, particularly those that revolve around NaNoWriMo, I am a pantser. Even the idea of planning out something before I write it gives me the heebie-jeebies. The problem with this is I am slightly (i.e. very) compulsive about certain things and in order for me to make decent progress I have to plan.
The same goes for any self improvement activity, whether it’s a new hobby or honing the skills of a particular craft like photography or writing. I got a new camera, a shiny new Nikon D90 a few years ago and read a couple things online and started snapping pictures. I had taken a photography course at the local community college a decade ago and figured I would just wing it. The results were better than average, but they weren’t great, so I took a couple more classes specifically geared toward the camera I owned and then started taking tonnes of pictures. The result? I wouldn’t classify them as “great”, but they are certainly better than anything I’ve ever done and I’m quite pleased.
When it comes to writing I’ve done a lot of reading, but not as much reading about how to write as I have much as I have for research and pleasure. This is not a bad thing, but just as reading about rocket science isn’t going to actually make me a rocket scientist, reading books isn’t going to make me an author. I’ve also done some writing, though not nearly as much as I should. I haven’t even amassed half a million words yet, in spite of finishing a first draft of a novel, having written 50,000 words towards a second novel, 20,000 words toward a third, and 52,000 words on my blog in the last 16 months.
So, when my friend and Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior publisher Christina Esdon sent me a message on Facebook a few months ago asking if I wanted to go to an all day writer’s workshop given by none other than Chuck Wendig I didn’t even have to check the calendar twice. I bought a ticket within minutes and yesterday morning she met me at my house and we carpooled into Toronto to go learn how to “art harder”, as chuck is wont to say from time to time (usually with a well place expletive at the end).
I own (but have not yet read) all of Chuck’s books on the writing craft and get every one of his blog posts over at Terrible Minds but didn’t have any idea what to expect. If you want the executive summary now here’s all you need to know: it was worth every penny ($90) and I’d do it again in the beat of a heart.
The room we set up very formally, with a podium at the front and rows of tables that each sat three people. After some background from Chuck on how he came to be a full time professional writer we got right down to business. We covered a wide range of topics and he had us do exercises for each one where we got to share with the class, get feedback from him and the others, and even participate in crowd-sourced story creation. It ended with a Q&A session on writing and storytelling and then a book signing / photo op.
Some of the stuff we covered:
Character Log lines
I’m not normally much of a note taker and even mentioned to Christina that I wasn’t sure I would take any notes, but I did have this wonderful pen my brother bought me for Christmas and a notepad just in case. By the end of the all day session I had taken six pages of notes (including stuff written for the exercises). In addition to that, I came up with one new idea for a series and several improvements for the novel that I’m editing.
On top of all that, I got to eat lunch with Chuck and spend some time having normal conversations. Well as normal as they could be given the fact that he’s this hugely successful writer on his first trip to Canada and I’m a newbie writer Chuck Wendig fanboy who grew up 15 minutes from where we were sitting noshing on some tasty Pickle Barrel sandwiches.
I scribbled down a little humorous line in my notebook while Chuck was talking with Christina and at a break in the conversation asked him if he’d do me the pleasure of signing it. He went one better and added a line of his own before penning his name to the bottom. Day = made. In addition to being a great writer and knowing his shit when it comes to the craft I can honestly say that he’s also one of the most genuine dudes I’ve ever met as well as beyond patient when it comes to his fans and fellow writers (especially considering how creepy I was being).
Hopefully this won’t cause Chuck any problems at the border
Finally, as if all of the above wasn’t enough he’s also got that awesome beard, which would come in really handy if I were in need of a good name for a punk band or thoroughbred racehorse.