30 March, 2015

A Fantastic Opportunity

Readers who are writers! Below is an email sent to me by Scott Bradfield, my extensively awesome writing mentor. Long-time readers will know his name. I have sung his praises many times. He is a famously awesome craftsman--LITERALLY as famously awesome as it's possible to get without being dead long enough to have your work revered by English Literature professors!

There is honestly no better opportunity for help with your writing than to solicit his help. He is a phenomenal craftsman, and a superb and experienced teacher. He taught me everything I know, and the more I learn, the more I discover the many messages deeper within his advice. His advice has provided me signposts along this road, such that when a new enigma has presented itself, or a new answer just out of reach, a memory will sing in my ear and the answers will come. That's all thanks to Scott. I've paid for the Writer's Bureau Home Study Course. I've read everything on the Writers of the Future pages. I've viewed countless blogs and watched video lectures by writers both obscure and famous and I've paid thousands of pounds (like dollars only worth more) for university degrees and honestly, NOTHING has compared with what this guy has taught me. I would trade all of it (except the degrees) for another hour of his time, and here he's offering you several hours for, considering you'll get as much out of it as you would any university course, next to nothing.

I'm not just selling him here arbitrarily. I am willing to stake my entire reputation on this, and I say that with no hesitation. If you're struggling to get your craft up to the next level, Scott has answers for you. Open your mind and your ears, and Scott can change your life. He certainly changed mine.

Rather than fool about with my own advertisement, I've decided simply to re-post his Facebook message. Even if you're not interested yourself, I'd consider it a personal favour if you'd re-blog this, and any reader of yours who signs up will, I promise you, thank you for it.

Scott's message begins:

Last year, I established some online CW courses at City Lit, and have experienced endless problems making them available through City Lit catalogs, or on the City Lit website - regions of information that are fraught with peril. The three current City Lit courses can be found at the following links - and they all start up for term three on 20 April 2015:




If you know anyone who might be interested in these courses - or in our independent experiment in online creative READING (and writing) - the Ultimate Beginners - could you please pass this info on to them?

Here's my recent letter to current and past students in my online courses, summarising the programme, and its perils:

Two years ago I started these online courses at City Lit for several reasons, but mainly to provide students the sort of one-on-one manuscript comments that we can't provide in-class, AND to make it possible for self-motivated students to work to their own schedules. City Lit provides REALLY affordable prices - AND concessions/senior rates - that most schools can't provide. And, I can promise you, EVERY other online writing course costs three or four times what City Lit charges. And all of those other online courses (from what I can see) are not very good.

On the other hand, City Lit has been going through lots of changes/difficulties in the past couple years, and they have done a terrible job publicising these courses. They often leave them off the catalog/online catalog altogether; OR they make it difficult for students to enroll; OR, as I just learned this week, they actually ERASE all the descriptive material from the catalog, so that what the course is, and how it works, is extremely confusing. OR they post misleading information.

For the past few months, for example, the catalog made it seem that students would have to "attend" THREE one hour sessions each week, and at specific times. They also managed to ERASE all the positive reviews these courses have been receiving from students! AND they ERASED all of my descriptive material for ALL of the courses! Jeez. And I only found out about these problems by accident - when a prospective student wrote me trying to understand what was going on.

I'm sort of exhausted trying to keep ahead of all these problems, and am asking all my students this term to do me a favour: if you have found the course useful and/or a bargain (and I will STRONGLY contend that it's a "bargain"), please let your friends and family know about the courses, or promote them where you can - Facebook pages, writer groups, whatever. OR provide reviews on the City Lit website that help students understand how the courses ACTUALLY work. And be prepared to have those reviews ERASED!

I just can't keep up with these problems anymore - and feel that City Lit's marketing department is unable to make these courses available - or understandable - to potential students. The courses will definitely die if we leave things to City Lit. Sorry for that long-winded "favour"! And I promise not to ask again or pester you about it. But if you would like to see courses like this carry forward at roughly these current prices, do please help get the word out!

We now return you to the regularly scheduled broadcast!

P.S. I google image-searched "angry writer" to illustrate this post - and here's what I got below!

19 March, 2015

Whingy whinge whinge

That's right. I'm doing the whinging. But in a proud sort of way... if that makes sense.

I finished my book. Now it's all about chilling for awhile. It's important once a draft is complete to let it simmer for at least a few days. I always tell myself a week, but usually can't stay away that long.

I'm going to write something else, maybe a short story. Or maybe I'll clean up some combat scenes from a Sword and Sorcery book I wrote long ago back when my life consisted of reading Robert E. Howard and practicing martial arts.

It doesn't matter what I write. What matters is taking my focus away from the book so I can look at it with honest eyes for a final spit and polish.

And why is this post whingy, you ask? Because I'm finally allowed to admit to myself how tired I am.

So I'll see you, dear readers, on the flip-side. I'm off to play Xenoblade Chronicles. Friends and relatives shouldn't expect to see me for a week or so, and when you do, I'll be pasty-skinned, and I'll reek of pizza.

Reality and I aren't getting a divorce, but we're spending some time apart.

10 March, 2015

Theme Fiction

Recently, I had an almost-polite altercation with a friend about whether Interstellar is a good movie. His issue was basically that the theme was confusing, which made the movie listless. As many budding authors read this blog, it drew to mind a distinction that one should know:


There.  I said it.

My friend cited Alien as a movie with a simple, comprehensible theme: the theme of rape. It's hard to explain to people who aren't interested in making art, but Alien does not have a theme. A theme is an INTENDED EFFECT. An intellectual effect, mostly, but the attachment of that effect is achieved through emotional connections much as anything else in fiction. Theme is most certainly not something for people to write dissertations about twenty years after the film is made. It's an INTENDED EFFECT for the viewer/reader to walk away with upon completing the movie/book, much like everything else in good fiction.

Alien doesn't have a theme. It's a very simplistic horror movie. It's intended effect is to be afraid of scary monsters. It's excellent. It's a tight, gut wrenching narrative about death and fear and escape and, indeed, powerlessness in the face of a frightening monster. In fact, to say it's about rape simply because the main character is a woman has to be one of the most inadvertently sexist comments I've ever heard.

Even more importantly, rape can't be a theme. Why? Is it an INTENDED INTELLECTUAL EFFECT? Hell no. It's not an idea. It's an action. It's like saying, "The theme of American Sniper is shooting guns." Bullshit. The theme can be to make us think about how shooting guns, or rape, is wrong, but Alien made no such attempt. It made us think about how much it would suck to get chased by scary monsters.

Now, as someone who's taught women's self defense, I feel icky even writing that word, so I'll have to drop that subject now and move on.

The bottom line is, even if Alien were about that (which it isn't, just to be clear) there's a difference between what a movie's about and its theme. American Sniper is about shooting people. Is that a theme? No. Selma is about civil rights movements and racism. Is that a theme? No. "Racism is wrong" can be a theme, but racism itself is a topic, as are civil rights movements.

Let's give an example of something with a great theme: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Never judge a person before walking a mile in their shoes. That theme is reiterated over and over. In just about everything that happens in the book, even in most conversations within the book, we are given the idea of how judging a person is wrong. We are reminded of how people are intricate creatures who cannot be understood simply by staring at them from the outside. And once you understand someone, you'll never want to judge them.

A theme can make you reflect on other things. For instance, To Kill a Mockingbird has the potential to make someone reflect on racism. But is the theme "racism"? That's not a theme. Can it make us think about how racism is wrong? Yes, for the same reason you shouldn't judge a person without walking a mile in their shoes: all people are inherently equal.

People can walk away with different reflections based upon how the theme resonates with their own experiences. In America, readers tend to hone in on the idea of race, because of the racial issues that still persist in your country. No offense, but the rest of the 1st world isn't like that, and if you don't believe me, you've never lived in Canada.

The trial only takes up 1/3 of the book. To Kill a Mockingbird does not mention race on every page. But every page does ooze the idea that you shouldn't judge a person without walking a mile in their shoes. The movie, which did not feature that guy from the Superbowl commercial, focused on the trial because it's a big dramatic hinge-point. It's a thematic hinge-point too, and inherently so, because a well integrated theme will be in every way tied to the drama.

Reflection on the theme is an INTENDED INTELLECTUAL EFFECT. That's why everything in the book is so exquisitely tailored to it. Without that understanding, an artist can never create themes of their own, because they must understand that it's not a question of the topic you want to cover. It's a question of the thoughts and reflections you want your reader to walk away with.

My picture for Pinterest this time is chosen to illustrate why people grow up with misconceptions about themes. Namely, we're taught wrong. This picture is a sheet for school. (I teach English on the side.) It's basically forcing students to fail to understand what Harper Lee did, and fail to understand how fiction is made, and indeed, fail to attain good grades based upon your own honest reading experiences. School is, in essence, judging you intellectually without attempting to walk a mile in your shoes.

Note the word "themes", plural. Bullshit. Note also the focus on racial issues. Reflection as a result of the theme. Not the theme itself. (Intended reflections perhaps, but that changes nothing.) Note how, if you have any real insight into the truth of a subject, school will make every attempt to beat that out of you. Just a personal grudge, there, but you'll see that topic in my books frequently.

To far too many young people, their relationship with society looks too much like this: