Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Most Interesting Nerd In The World

L to R: Lesley Livingston, Joanna Blackman, Jonathan Llyr, Meghan Campbell, Adrienne Kress 

"He can speak Elvish, in Klingon . . ."

So keeping on the video kick . . .

I'm a founding member of a geek website called (as is Ms. Lesley Livingston from yesterday's post - I told you, we do everything together it would seem).  I'm the film reviewer, I also post news articles, I even have a weekly column called "Manly Monday".  It's good times, my friends, good times.

A couple years ago, we decided to make a video advertising the site for an awards show that our fearless leader, Mr. Jonathan Llyr, was presenting at.  It's based on those awesome The Most Interesting Man In The World ads, and I think it is truly hilarious.  Once more you'll catch a glimpse of me here and there in the background, but it is mostly focused on Jon himself (a former host on the Space network here in Canada), who is, I can assure you, definitely The Most Interesting Nerd In The World (btw, all the photographs of Jon used in this video are real, not photoshopped, he really has met all those people and been on those sets):

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston

So regulars to my blog will have read about my friendship with fellow author and actress Lesley Livingston.  She is the author of the award winning faerie series, Wondrous Strange, and also the author of the award winning YA time travel book Once Every Never (which is the first in its own series as well). 

Needless to say, I rather adore this lady.  We have made many a trip to New York together, acted in several shows together.  We have been reviewed together.  We have been at conventions on panels together.  We have even been in books together (Corsets & Clockwork - Steampunk YA anthology).  And if I don't see her once a week at least, it feels like we haven't seen each other in years (take the last several weeks, where our lives were such that I think 3 weeks passed - until we finally got to go for lunch yesterday).  

Another thing we do together is book trailers, and I happen to be in many of hers.  'Cause you know, I also have helped in the past produce them and they are rather fun to be a part of. 

So here we go again, this time it's not quite a book trailer as more like an author interview with Lesley talking about Once Every Never, with shots intercut that represent scenes from the book.  In all, I think it looks pretty darn sweet.  If I do say so myself.  Which I do.  Also in the scenes from the book with me are the fantastic Casey Hudecki, Patrick Whalen and Mike Dufays.

But first, a little bit about Once Every Never:

Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker … but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse running through her veins.

Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born, and if there’s still time— literally—maybe even get a date.

This is the kind of adventure that happens to a girl once every … never. 

And now, the video!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - a response to Gawker's post about Bieber's Steampunk music video

This is a response to Gawker, yes, but also a response to a general sentiment expressed on Twitter etc.


First, this is what Gawker said, when posting Justin Bieber's latest Christmas music video - a Steampunk version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town":

"Musical haircut Justin Bieber has a new Christmas song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and the video is inexplicably steampunk-themed. Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

There are many things that frustrate me about this statement.  So I think I'll share what they are.

First of all there's the "inexplicably" part of the post.  And many over the internets have been saying Bieber is just jumping on board the up and coming trend (it's still not there yet, I still have to explain to most people what Steampunk is, I'll let you know when the balance shifts).  Maybe he is.  He's a very savvy guy.  But I don't think the video inexplicably uses Steampunk.  Whether or not you like Bieber or his using Steampunk, the fact is, I think the video makes a lot of sense. 

What I see in this video is Santa's workshop steampunked out in preparation for Santa coming to town.  We tend to think of Santa's workshop as having an oldy-timey feel to it anyway, so why wouldn't it have some amazing magical steampunk fabulousness to make it work?

One could say that they could have been slightly more inventive with the props and set, and that it isn't exactly the most original looking version of Steampunk we've seen.  But I think the context of the video works.  

Next.  "Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

This I find truly condescending, the notion that people who like Steampunk are only doing it to be different, not because they are actually passionate about it.  That what's more important to people who like Steampunk is that they are quirky and different, not the Steampunk itself. 

From my experience with fellow Steampunkers, it seems to me most of us came to it because there was something special about it that struck a chord with us.  In the future I plan on blogging about what that something was for me.  But I choose Steampunk for a specific reason, just as I don't choose to be a skater (and why skaters choose to be such and not goths, and why goths choose to be goths etc etc). This means that when something becomes popular I don't suddenly decide I don't like it.  I like something because I like it.  Not because other people like it.

It's kind of like the whole Harry Potter mass obsession thing.  I knew so many people who refused to even read one of the books because they hated anything that was so popular like that.  I would always say, "Look, you are free to like and dislike whatever you want.  But not liking something because everyone else likes it, is just the same as liking something because everyone else does.  You aren't making up your own mind on the subject.  You're letting the mob dictate your response."

So I'm the kind of person who loves Harry Potter, but maybe not certain other popular books.  I adore the Lord of the Rings movies, but maybe not AVATAR.  I like what I like, regardless of what other people think.

So yeah, Justin Bieber made a Steampunk music video, thus making the genre explode for 14 yearolds etc, well, what do I care?  I didn't like Steampunk because no one else did.  I like Steampunk because I like Steampunk.

Lastly, I take this post to be hinting at the fact that Gawker isn't a fan of the Biebs (if someone that Gawker thought was cool was doing it, I doubt it would have had the headline of Justin Bieber Ruins Entire Nerd Subculture).  Personally I don't see what's wrong with Bieber.  Sure his music isn't my kind of thing, but it's hardly aimed at someone like me.  He seems nice enough and talented enough.  I dunno.  But let's run with the notion that you, Gawker, don't like Bieber.  Well why on earth would you then give him the power to ruin something that gives people so much pleasure?  Why make him meaningful to you?  On the one hand, you're attempting to diss him by saying when he makes a video he ruins something special, but on the other hand you're uplifting him and giving him the power to destroy.  Make him meaningless, that's how you deal with things you don't like.

There's a bigger message though, behind all this.  Something I touched upon a few Tuesdays ago where I talked about "The Next Big Thing?".  I made a plea to Steampunkers to please not do that snobbish exclusionary thing where the second something gets popular those who were there from the beginning turn their noses up at those just getting involved with Steampunk because it's cool.  This is what I said:

But until we do, and if/when we do, I ask all Steampunkers the following favour:  let's not judge.  Let's not be like the hipsters who pride themselves in getting there first with, you know, everything.  Where something becomes uncool the second the layman knows about it.  That's not what Steampunk is about.  Steampunk is about Steampunk, not about an image.  It is the ultimate Rorschach test and can be interpreted to be whatever the individual wants it to be.

So let's not judge, but be welcoming and open.  And let's not judge if Steampunk becomes a trend: "Oh that person is only dressing like that because they bought that skirt at Top Shop."  Let's be happy to see others having fun with Steampunk, even if for them it is a fleeting thing.  Steampunk, ultimately, is about having fun.  Playing.  Let's not lose sight of that.

And I stand by this sentiment.  It clearly is going to become more important in 2012 as Steampunk really makes its way into popular culture.  But I stand by this sentiment in general as well, with everything in life:  Pursue your dreams because they are your dreams, not someone else's imposed on you.  Love things/people you love because you do, not because someone else loved them first (or even more tricky, not because others have told you NOT to). 

Be true to yourself. 

Because trends come and go, but passion is forever.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Temping Poetry

Not to be confused with tempting poetry.

So today I had another temp job.  This one was in an office tower where my job was to man the phones while everyone else in the office was out of town.  I spent the day completely alone, but there was a computer.  So I got quite a bit of writing done, and read a little too.

I also wrote some poetry.  Now usually my poetry is of the rhyming variety but for some reason today I was inspired to be a little different than usual.  There was something so very peculiar being all alone in such a big space with nothing to do . . . and being paid to be there. 

So for your reading pleasure.  Some Temp Poetry (if anyone can think of any titles, I welcome your input!).

Today I was paid to sit by the phones in an empty office.
Just in case.
There was one call.
I forwarded the message on. 
With gratitude: I’ll get back to them on Monday.

The light in here reflects not the time of day
Nor the season.
Only myself in the dark tinted windows.

I never know the truth:
At 11am, it snowed.

Some find their voice on silent mountain tops,
Or hidden in the chaos of a language they don't understand.
They see it in the beauty of a temple,
Or in the aftermath of tragic events.
I find it sitting in a chair,
In an empty office,
Listening to the white noise of a fan.
Once again inspiration found by a stranger in a strange land.

I tend to write poetry that rhymes.
Today not so much.
The absurdity of my situation puts me in a high school frame of mind.
Rhymes are for babies, and I’m deep when I
Fragment my

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Some Painters from the Past

I'm not sure how many of you know this, but I almost doubled majored in Art History in University.  I actually was taking courses to achieve that end, but the schedule in doing a drama degree became overwhelming and I had to give up on the double major dream.  This meant I graduated with far more credits than I needed, and that I still have this insane love of visual art and architecture. 

I think this for two reasons:

1. While I can sketch and draw okay (I did study it when I was a kid going to art schools), it was never something I was particularly brilliant at and I am aware just how difficult it is to do, and I thoroughly admire people who ARE good at it.

2. There is a tangible quality to Art History as opposed to Theatre History.  With the history of theatre you can only read about what happened once, you can't see the plays as they were put on.  You can read them, you can see pictures of them, even filmed versions of them.  But you don't get to experience them the way audiences at the time got to.  It's what makes theatre so unique, it's here and then gone.  It's a moment in time.  With Art History you get to experience the work as it was experienced by people of the period it was made in.  Certainly with architecture it will have degraded over time, ditto I guess paintings and sculpture, but still, you get to see history right in front of you.  Understand a culture instantly.  With architecture, walk through the same halls as some of your heroes.  It's . . . crazy man. 

Also some of it is just plain gorgeous.

Anyway today I just thought I'd share three artists I really like.  Why?  Because I feel like it.  Maybe I'll share three more in the future.  Why?  Because I'll feel like it then too.

So . . .

I'm a huge fan of Toulouse-Lautrec, especially his poster art:

"The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge"

 I think we all go through an existential absurdist phase at some point in our lives, but I was always more a Magritte fan than a Dali fan - I find his work odder because that which is represented seems at first less odd.  It's the stuff of dreams.  And nightmares. 

"Not to be Reproduced"

"The Lovers"

"The Dominion of Light"

And finally (for today) like many people, I enjoy me a good Da Vinci.  Here are two of my favourites:

cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist

"The Virgin of the Rocks" (the one in the National Gallery in London, UK)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Cool Steampunk Lego Creations!

Just a quick one for today, as it's been a rather full one and right now I feel like anything I want to say about Steampunk will require a fair bit of time to write.  Yup, I gots some deep stuff to say.  Or at least, you know, longwinded stuff.

I saw this post at Flavorwire and thought, well golly, ain't that neat.

Also I thought . . . "You can do that??"

Which tends to be my most common response to Steampunk anythings and also tends to be why I adore it so much.  Every time you think you've seen it all . . .

"You can do that???"

Check out Matt Armstrong's ridonkulous Lego Steampunk inventions, they are just fantastic (okay, so the dude does crazy non-Steampunk Lego stuff too . . . this is a man with serious talent my friends)!  (view more here):

Monday, December 05, 2011

From the Archives - THE NEW YA

Over the last week I've been involved in many discussions online about what can and can't be in YA, what the expected next trend is going to be etc etc.  And the question always comes about, when did YA first come to be - and how it's actually a very young genre (young as in hasn't been around long, not young as in who it's aimed for).  So invariably I wind up linking people to this blog post I wrote in 2009 on the subject of what I called "The New YA".  

I then thought, "Hmm . . . maybe it's time to just re-post this blog entry for those not interested in going through the archives."  

And . . . here it is:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The New YA

YA stands for Young Adult. It is a literary category. It is tricky to quantify, it encompasses many different genres from fantasy to gritty reality. It encompasses many ages.

YA is not MG.

This is the most important thing that people need to realise when buying books for kids/teenagers.

YA is not MG.

MG is middle grade. Middle Grade is typically 8 -12. My books are Middle Grade. The first three Harry Potters are MG. Again, it encompasses many different genres, and while the age range is more specific, there are divisions within it as well. Within Middle Grade you can also have Upper Middle Grade which can be read too by 13 and 14 year olds (that awkward tween stage of literature).

So what is YA then? YA I suppose is anything above that in theory. And yet a YA will rarely have a protagonist younger than 14. Kids like to read up you see.

So what is YA then?

YA is a very new genre. People might argue that, they point to fiction for kids that has been around for forever. They point even to Judy Blume, who remains quite popular. But the new YA isn't that. I'd argue that these days those books you think of when you think of your childhood as being YA are actually Middle Grade. Even if they involved teenagers, these books were primarily read by kids in the tween age range. Once a kid got to high school, if they indeed even kept up with reading, they moved on to adult books. Teenagers don't much want to feel like kids.

I know. I remember that feeling.

I'd argue that the new YA, the YA of the last decade, is the first time YA is being written for YAs.

So what is YA then?

If we suppose that in the past teenagers moved on from what was at the time considered YA to adult books, and that now teenagers are reading actual YA books as actual teenagers, then how can we assume YA ought to remain in some category belonging primarily to middle grade fiction? If they can handle the adult stuff, why then can't YA have adult themes?

The question is asked all the time, "What is acceptable for YA?", "Am I allowed to do this in YA?"

The answer is very straightforward. Anything. Yes.

But remember these two important details. Your main character has to be a teenager. And the plot must have something to do with coming of age.

I'll also add that a faster pace than some adult literature is quite desirable. But then again in adult literature, there are times, dude, when it could also be quite desirable.

Other than that: Anything. Yes.

The new YA respects that teenagers get that the world isn't perfect. That there is sex, drugs, violence and bad language. That bad things happen. But the new YA still for the most part remains a genre of hope. It is rare you will find a YA book ending on a desperate note.

Granted I think this might frighten some adults/parents. Because we look back to our YA reading experiences, back when YA wasn't really YA but MG. We forget the texts we studied in highschool, the adult books we had to analyse, the adult content we were faced with. In our minds, YA still is innocent, because our YA was much more innocent.

There were authors pushing the boundaries, Ms. Blume of course, and the odd YA actually meant for YAs, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (you could consider both of them the inspiration and forebears of the new YA), but for the most part the books were much safer than they are now. However. They also weren't truly meant for teenagers. Because teenagers, again may I repeat, were reading adult books.

Because YA is also a very new genre we have to understand that books that in the past were categorised as adult, could quite conceivably have been categorised as YA had the genre existed at the time.

All very complicated, I know.

Why am I saying all this? I guess because I see articles like these and I just shake my head. The article is about a "children's book" called Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and asks whether publishers should not take more responsibility for content. Aside from the absurd notion that it is up to publishers to censor what comes out onto the market to preserve one group's idea of morality, what the author of this article neglects to mention is that the book is not MG, is not a "children's book", but is YA. And the author of this article clearly has no concept as to what YA is. Nor do many of those interviewed. This false premise alone is the greatest frustration I have with this article. It means every argument postulated for or against, is discussing the wrong subject. It's like saying, "I read this slice of life book and was shocked to find dragons in it!" when the book you are talking about is clearly a fantasy.

Look, I write MG, I understand that there are certain topics I can't write about, or at least must handle very delicately. This is simply not the same with YA.

I will not pretend that YA with very mature themes are not a harder sell, and much harder for a publisher to market. I also will not pretend that even adult works dealing with certain themes do not get the public's ire raised as well. It is much easier to sell a work about chaste vampires, than one that deals in gritty real world issues. It is naive to say what I have said: Anything. Yes. I really should have added, "But you'd better do it darn well."

But we also have to stop pretending that the literary market is anything like it was when we were kids (and I wasn't a kid that long ago compared to some, and even since then, it has changed considerably).

JK Rowling made kids' books profitable. The MG market exploded with the advent of Harry Potter. She actually changed the face of publishing. This seeped into the YA market, which was already experimenting, and now with Twilight, it is not just a force to be reckoned with, but one of the few genres where sales have gone up in this economic climate.

Go into a bookstore and look at the YA section. It is an incredible thing. So many different styles and genres all shelved side by side. The opportunity to try new things is right there at your fingertips, not isolated from each other like over in the adult section. There is lovely PG rated work to be found, it isn't like it has disappeared, but there is the tougher stuff out there too.

And it's okay. It's good to have choice. I know parents are complaining that they need age banding on books so they understand what it is their kids are reading. But I just don't think that's the answer. A child is not universally ready for something at 12, and then ready for something else at 14. It depends on their upbringing, their reading level, their likes and dislikes. Gasp! On being an individual human being. I could not, and still can't, read/watch horror. Doesn't mean there weren't kids back when I was little reading the Goosebumps series. If we age banded based on my example, no one would be allowed to read horror ever at any age.

The answer, in my mind, is understanding the new YA. And the answer to understanding what it is kids are reading is to read what the kids are reading. To understand that YA for YAs is meant to be read by intelligent discerning minds, by teenagers who are far smarter than a lot of adults give them credit for. Let's not forget that many teenagers are heading off to university by the time they are 17.

You don't want your 12 year old reading YA? There is still MG. There is some amazing MG out there (if I do say so myself). But you need to understand that difference between MG and YA. Because it didn't exist before recently. It's new. YA used to be MG. It isn't anymore.

And again, that's okay.

One final thought: Shakespeare is taught in, I'd venture to guess, almost every highschool in the English speaking world. Shakespeare was a genius. He can express thoughts and feelings in a way that is beyond perfect, you just want to roll his words around in your mouth they are so glorious. However. Shakespeare was also a naughty boy, and his plays are rife with blatant sexual jokes and innuendo. He was also a violent boy, writing about eye gouging, suicide, fights to the death. . .

Your teenagers are reading Shakespeare.

Is all I'm saying . . .

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Processed Cheese and a Man Named Fred

I don't often blog about the third personality in my blog title, that is to say, The Temp.  Why?  Well I am not consistently temping, and most of the time there isn't much to tell really.  It's the usual office work, you know how it is.

But yesterday I had such a surreal experience in the guise of something perfectly normal that I felt I would briefly share.


I was called last minute to help put together some packages for a marketing company's mail out.  I went to the mail room and was introduced to Fred, a lovely older gentleman with white hair and glasses, who towards the end of the day announced he'd forgotten to take his arthritis medication.  Fred far prefers theatre over movies, doesn't really read books (though his wife loves them), but does enjoy magazines.  Has been married three times, and is totally in love now.  He hates people who can't own up to their mistakes, and in general dishonesty makes him extremely mad.

I learned all this, you see, after working six hours with him, stuffing test samples of processed cheese into FedEx boxes.  You take one package marked "Try Second", put that in the package, then you put in an ice pack, then the second package marked "Try First".  Then the package is sealed up and slipped into a box with a survey placed on top.  Address labels go on, and then I assume these packages get whisked off across the country.

Yup.  That was my day yesterday.

Or to put it another way:

I spent the day yesterday in the mail room stuffing cheese into FedEx boxes with a guy named Fred.

Seriously.  How ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN is that?

Fred asked me, "Do you ever get inspired by the temping jobs you do?"

Yes Fred, I do.  I certainly do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

From my blog archives: Chasing Trends

So I have a rather busy day today and thought that instead of skipping posting all together, I'd go through the archives and find a post that I think is still relevant and totally and utterly fabulous, and re-post it today.

I chose CHASING TRENDS because the subject really never gets old.  It's a question I see a lot on forums still: "What's the next big trend?" "What are agents looking for now?"

Anyway, here you go, I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I have felt for some time now that agents/editors blogging is both a great and slightly unhelpful phenomena. It's great because it removes some of the mystique behind the publishing process, demonstrates, you know, that agents and editors are human beings. These blogs also provide practical information: the art of the good query letter, what that particular agent likes to represent etc. They also offer excellent networking opportunities through the comments sections.

They are less helpful when they confuse authors.

The problem with these blogs is that each agent has a slightly different philosophy on the industry. Each agent has a slightly different set of requirements for his/her query letters. Each agent . . . is different. And authors sometimes can find themselves trying to appeal to every agent in one magical query letter or whathaveyou. This is next to impossible. (I wrote about this idea in more general terms here).

What also makes life more confusing for authors are the posts about current trends. I personally find them very interesting, and love it when agents talk about what's hot and what's not. But unless you just happen to have a completed novel in one of those genres of the hot variety that you've been scared to send out and this news gives you the impetus to do so, I say, enjoy these posts on a "Well now that's quite interesting" level.

Because, seriously? Current trends are pretty darn meaningless.

The thing is - publishing takes a long time. A very long time.

Let's say you have an agent already. Let's say that agent has sold your work. It will still be close to TWO years before the book is on the shelves. And there is simply no predicting what will be popular in two years. Before the DaVinci Code came out, do you think editors were looking for religious conspiracy novels? Ah, no. In fact I would venture to say if such books crossed their desks the response would be along the lines: "Too controversial." Yet suddenly this book strikes it huge and every other book on the shelf looks like some cheap knockoff (yes, even those books knocked off by Brown himself somehow still managed to look like that).

I'm not saying it isn't important to keep up with what's hot in the industry right now. I think being educated is always a smart move.

But instead of freaking out trying to write an epic love story about vampire pirate time travelers, because some agent mentioned it once in passing, try freaking out about writing a really compelling novel. Something that interests you, something where your passion obviously shines through.

My personal experience is a pretty good example of this. Alex was rejected because it was "too old fashioned". In fact when you look at the facts, Alex is definitely not what you would consider trendy. First off it's long. Around twice as long as most novels in its genre. It's also episodic, which is an outdated form of storytelling. These days we prefer our soap opera, what happens next, kind of stories. The protagonist is a girl, and I know that many MG editors are looking for male leads to entice boy readers. The language is complicated, sometimes even archaic. And I use author intrusion, which while very popular in Lemony Snicket, really is not what is desired in novels in general, let alone children's books. In fact I have read articles advising strongly against it.  I easily could have decided that, "No, this isn't what people want right now, I'm not going to write it."

Yet . . . I still managed to find people interested enough in spending time with me to edit it and then eventually publish it.

There are so few things we can control as authors. We can't control what an agent/editor likes or dislikes. We can't control the economy. We can't control readers deciding they'd rather watch a movie. But we can control the words on the page. We can write our story, choose our words, play with characters. We can edit a manuscript over and over again until it shines. That, at least, we should feel some power over.

So I say instead of grasping at some trend's tailcoat, let's start our own! It will be brilliant! It will be delightful! It will be the trend to end all trends!

. . . and we shall call it . . . Carl.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


So the HUNGER GAMES trailer came out this week and I figured why not share it here!  After all, I'm a huge fan (lest we forget, I contributed an essay to THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE: YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS ON SUZANNE COLLINS' HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY) and am beyond excited to see this movie.

Thus on the off-chance you haven't seen it yet. . . check it out below.  Also, what are your thoughts?  Does it live up to expectations?  I must admit to getting butterflies watching them enter the arena, and am very pleased with both Lenny Kravitz and a blue haired Stanley Tucci :) .

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Hangman" Reading - by Jason Maghonoy

For those of you in Toronto, tomorrow night there's a staged reading of my friend (and incredibly talented playwright) Jason Maghanoy's new work "Hangman".  I strongly urge you to check it out.  His writing is always fresh, funny, clever and poignant, and the cast doing the reading is fantastic:  Stuart Hughes, Jeff Irving, Araya Mengesha, Dylan Trowbridge and David Fox!   It's also directed by Richard Rose.

So here's the info if you are interested:

Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Tarragon Theatre
30 Bridgman Avenue

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Social Gatherings

Kenneth Shelley, Ashley Kung, J.M. Frey, Me

A short one for today, but no less fabulous.  I realise that the internet is international, but I thought I should share some links for my fellow Canadians who were beginning to get interested in Steampunk.

When I was manning the Steampunk table at FanExpo a lot of people were curious exactly how one met other Steampunk people.  What one did with the Steampunk.  Granted yes, people make Steampunk things and sell Steampunk things, but there are also social gatherings of Steampunkers that happen on a regular basis.  Again, I can only speak to some of the Canadian ones, but if anyone has knowledge of any others in other parts of the world please do share in the comments section below.

Steampunk Canada
Probably the most comprehensive listing for Steampunk activities across Canada.

Toronto Steampunk Society
Specifically for those Steampunkers in Toronto, there are many scheduled events in the city - walks, photoshoots, pub gatherings - and this page is actively updated every day. 

Steampunk Ottawa
Similar to the TSS.  Only if you, you know, live in Ottawa.

And don't forget about, where you can search for any events happening in your region, and can totally use the keyword "Steampunk".

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

THE PATTERN SCARS - by Caitlin Sweet

So this past Saturday was the launch of a new novel by the amazing author Caitlin SweetTHE PATTERN SCARS.  It was a very exciting event that took place at Bakka-Phoenix Books.  And not just because I got to get my fortune read (evidently I must be patient, which is unfortunate. I am so not good at the patient), but this novel of Caitlin's is a long time coming.  I've been fortunate to share much of the journey with her.  Well not so much "share", as the experience was hers and hers alone to conquer, but to hear tales of over lunch and drinks and be in awe of her perseverance.

If ever any of you have been frustrated trying to get a work published, her story is one that will uplift you.  She published two novels back around 2005, and since then had difficulty with this particular novel (both in actualising it and finding it a home).  It took her a while to find it a publisher, but she did at the amazing Canadian press ChiZine - a publisher of literary dark SF/Fantasy.  Also they have some of the most gorgeous covers in the biz.

So THE PATTERN SCARS has a home now.  I have yet to read it, but I am told it is heartbreaking and beautiful and I wouldn't expect anything less.

Congratulations once more, Caitlin, you deserve so much positive karma right now!  Your patience has definitely paid off and is truly an inspiration.  So maybe I need to listen to my fortune teller a bit more closely . . . :) 


Nola is born into poverty in Sarsenay City. When her mother realizes that Nola has the gift of Othersight and can foretell the future, she sells her to a brothel seer, who teaches the girl to harness her gift. As she grows up, she embraces her new life, and even finds a small circle of friends. All too soon, her world is again turned upside down when one of them is murdered. When a handsome, young Otherseer from the castle promises to teach her, she eagerly embraces the prospects of luxury beyond what she can imagine and safety from a killer who stalks girls by night. Little does she know that he will soon draw her into a web of murder, treachery, and obsessive desire that will threaten the people and land she holds dear, and that she will soon learn the harshest of lessons: that being able to predict the future has nothing to do with being able to prevent it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - The Steampunk Scholar! aka Mike Perschon

So last week I featured a list of Steampunk books as recommended to us all by the Steampunk Scholar aka Mike Perschon.  And today, I am posting an interview he was so kind to do with me.  I met the fellow at the Canadian National Steampunk Exhibition and even sat on a panel with him.  The man's knowledge of Steampunk is impressive.  And it ought to be, considering he's doing his PhD on the subject.

But I digress.  Here's the interview.  Do check it out, I think his answers are just fantastic.

Here's his website:

What got you interested in Steampunk?

I’d heard the term in a few different contexts, but my current interest resulted from choosing a topic for my doctoral dissertation. I was either going to do Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero as dystopic intertext, or steampunk. My Master’s advisor said, “Dystopia’s been done to death, and if you do steampunk, I’ll be your advisor again,” which really decided it, because we have a great working relationship.

You have a very specific definition of it, briefly what is it and how did you come up with it?

I speak about steampunk as an aesthetic that gets applied to other genres. The steampunk aesthetic combines a Industrial Era look or feel (neo-Victorianism) with a postmodern view of the past (retrofuturism) and technology that has the appearance of science, but none of the rigor we see in hard SF (technofantasy). Those three things, applied together, produce the look we call steampunk.

You are currently pursuing your PhD on the subject, what inspired you to do so and what is your end goal?

I was being pragmatic: I wanted to do something fresh, something that didn’t have a wealth of scholarship to compete with. Beyond that, it was a topic I could see myself being interested in for four to six years, which is the estimated length a literary doctoral degree takes to complete. My end goal is really just to get to get the PhD, settle into my work at Grant MacEwan University, and use the four months I get off every year to write fiction and spend the summer with my family.

What would you say is the most controversial topic within the Steampunk community?

The idea that the “punk” in steampunk constitutes a necessary political position, which I take umbrage with: there hasn’t been a hell of a lot of steam in steampunk, so why is it necessary to have punk? That’s not to say I’m opposed to oppositional politics in steampunk, but it’s exclusionary and somewhat pejorative to say that politically-themed writing is steampunk, and everything else is steampulp. Some of the best early steampunk, like Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates, would be steampulp by that rubric.

Does Steampunk hold any kind of "mirror up to nature" and if so, what does that mirror reflect do you think?

I think all texts are mirrors of the world, but steampunk’s mirror allows us to see the world with unexplored frontiers again, to respond to cynicism with romanticism, and engage in playful modes of writing, whether the writer’s agenda is serious or whimsical.

Where do you think Steampunk is heading? What is its future?

I really don’t know. I made some projections a year or so back, and they were largely correct, but I’m hesitant to prognosticate the future of a scene so big as steampunk. As far as the literature goes, my guess is that the future of steampunk is in space. And understand, I’m not saying I think that’s where it should go. It’s just that literary steampunk seems to be asking how to be the next big thing, and since zombies, vampires, fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, pirates, romance, and westerns have all been steampunked, it’s time to go into outer space. Or maybe inner space – given the roots in the nineteenth century, it’s interesting how few steampunk tales deal with Journeys to the Centre, outside Rudy Rucker’s Hollow Earth and a moment in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day.

Does it have staying power or is it just a fad?

Both. The hype generated by media exposure will die down, but there’s a dedicated core of people who dig steampunk in various ways who will keep the gears turning long past any mainstream popularity.

If there was only one Steampunk book you would recommend, what would it be and why?

It would really depend on who was asking, since I’ve read enough now to be able to ask a person their tastes, and approximate the best steampunk book to introduce them to the aesthetic. For academic big-heads, I’d say Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day; for young adults, I’d say Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan; and for people just looking to enjoy themselves, I’d say Gail Carriger’s Soulless.

You've been to many Steampunk cons, what's one of your favourite moments from those events?

I can’t do one, but I’ll give you three: receiving my goggles from Legion Fantastique, a Verne-improv group from San Francisco at my first con, reading from Soulless with Gail Carriger at Steamcon II in Seattle, and having Gary Gianni tell me I look like a young Orson Welles at Steamcon III.

Carriger and the Scholar reading.

What is your favourite personal Steampunk accessory?

I have a gorgeous leather slipcase for a writing pad that was given to me by good friends who accompanied me to some cons. It even underscores the aesthetic: the exterior slipcase has the steampunk look, while the interior is a regular coil-bound notebook. The illusion of steampunk, tucked under my arm. It goes to every con now: it’s the perfect accessory for a guy who calls himself a steampunk scholar.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Social Networking 101

The funny thing is I never considered myself particularly brilliant at computers/Internet.  Nor did I ever think I was particularly brilliant at networking - social or not :) .  But I have come to realise that simply by virtue of the fact that I am online so darn much, I have acquired a series of skill and a knowledge of "rules" that might be valuable to others to know.  Especially fellow authors.  I think there are many of us being told by agents or editors etc to get on the social networking bandwagon and yet many of us have no clue where to start, nor really the difference between each form.

Today I'm going to do a very basic explanation of what each social networking platform is, and the "rules" for each said platform.  If you have any follow up questions, or wish to contribute your own insights to my own, please do post a comment below.  After all, all I've learned about this stuff came from other people helping me out.  We gots to look out for each other!

- a website is a piece of internet real estate.  It begins with www and is followed by the name of the site.  That name is called a DOMAIN NAME.  So has the domain name of ""
- variations of this domain name can end in .ca .org .net.  These all are different from each other. In theory someone could own and that would be a different website to mine at .com.
- you will have to purchase two things in order to have a website.
  • You will have to purchase your DOMAIN NAME 
  • You will have to find someone to host your site, ie: someone who will rent the space on the internet to you
Notes: sometimes your domain name is already owned by someone else, so you need to come up with something different.  For example, when I got my book deal for THE FRIDAY SOCIETY I wanted to buy as a domain.  But someone already had it.  So instead I bought  Sometimes if all the name options are taken you can consider buying a .net or .org instead.

- there are many different ways to create a website.  There are templates like WORDPRESS.  With something like WordPress you don't necessarily need to know the internet code called HTML to design and create your website.  But most websites are created using that code.  Therefore often most people will pay web designers to design for them since they don't know html.

A website is your home address.  It is a place to post your biographical information, your bibliographical information, News, Frequently Asked Questions, Appearance updates, pictures, fun facts etc.  I like to tell people to imagine a kid is assigned a project on researching you and goes to your website to do so.  What kind of info do you want that kid to have for his project?

People don't expect websites to be updated as frequently as any of the other platforms in this list, but you do need to keep it up to date.  You want people to return to it of course.  You want it to be the ultimate place where people can get accurate information about you.  You want it to be easy to navigate, so make sure links are listed obviously.  You want people to know that if they click on BIOGRAPHY that's exactly where they will wind up.

It can sometimes seem like a fun idea to have lots of flash or moving things on your site, but you don't want to overwhelm a visitor.  You want the site to look good, of course, to have a personality, but the primary objective of a website is to deliver information easily to a visitor.  Also music and a flash intro?  Most people mute the music and "skip intro".  I say, it's not worth the effort to have either.

- a blog is an online journal that the public can read.
- Blogs tend to be free and tend to have the Blog website listed as part of the name of the blog.  So the domain name of my blog is "ididntchoosethis" with the blog website that hosts my blog as the next bit "blogspot" followed by "com"  (all separated by dots of course:
- there are exceptions, sometimes people will have a blog designed for them and therefore they don't need the "blogspot" after their domain name
- in the blogosphere the two most popular blog websites that offer free templates to use are BLOGGER (ie BLOGSPOT) and LIVE JOURNAL
- the advantage to a blog is that it's free and very very easy to use.  When you are behind the scenes in your blog, it is very clearly explained how to post pictures how to post text, how to change the look of the blog.  You don't need to know html.

- some people use blogs as surrogate websites and it can be a good idea if you are just starting out.  The problem with blogs is, unlike a website, people expect blogs to be updated frequently.
- blogs are used to write posts about the business, about the creative process, about events etc.
- I recently was trying to explain to someone what I considered the best kind of blog post, and in the end it came down to: people want to connect with what you are writing.  They are looking for a kind of truth, an honesty, be it emotional or professional.  Even if in your blog you aren't sharing every nitty gritty thing about you (see blog rules below), you want your readers to trust that you are sincere, that you are sharing something because you want to share something, not because you want people to pay attention to you.
- This leads to the:

- unlike websites, blogs take us into "conversation" territory.
- You want to post something that you think will interest people.  That they will feel inclined to share as a link on their blog or twitter or something.  That they will want to comment on.  As I said above I think the best way to do this is to be sincere and honest.
- At the same time, a blog isn't a diary.  Sure some people have become famous for venting every little thing, but often these people still do it with wit and charm.  It's also a very unique skill to be able to vent and be tolerable at the same time.  Most people don't have that skill.
- My point is, choose your words carefully, choose what kind of blogger you want to be.  Remember too that anything posted to the net is there forever.  Yes, even if you delete it.  It can still have been cached.  
- as an author I recommend being a professional in your blog.  I recommend being the same author you are online as you are in person at official events.
- the blogosphere is a community, and the more your participate on other blogs, the more people will participate on yours.  So go to similar blogs, comment in the comments section, offer to exchange links with a blog you think is awesome (I'll link to your blog on mine, you'll like to mine on yours).  And don't forget to respond to comments on your own blog.

- the King of social networking sites, it only works because everyone is on it. 
- it's like a giant mall, where everyone you've ever known is hanging out.
- You get a personal page where you can post pictures, your likes and dislikes.  You also have what is called a "Wall" where you can post "status updates", things that you are thinking about, links to interesting cat videos.  A place where other people can post the same things, or if they mention you in their updates or notes or tag you in a picture, they appear as well.
- there are so many things to do on Facebook that really the only way to get to know it is to explore it.  I tend to find most of my friends use it as an alternate email (you can send private messages), as a way of organising and inviting people to events.  And a place to post silly things on their own and their friends' walls.
- speaking of Friends.  People will ask to be your friend.  When you agree to be someone's friend that means they have access to see your photos and post on your wall and communicate with you.
- a big issue you likely have heard about with Facebook is privacy.  There are ways to make your setup more private but it requires you to actively go into your Account and Privacy Settings and change things so not everyone on the planet knows your business.  For example, you can set up Facebook so that only your approved "Friends" can see your wall/profile/etc.  If anyone who isn't my friend searches for me on Facebook, they get a very basic page with not much information.

- I see Facebook as primarily social, a place where I spend time with actual friends (that is to say, people I also see in real life, not just online)
- However there is something called a "Facebook Fan Page" which authors can take advantage of.
- This is a page separate from your normal Facebook page.  You set it up to be your professional spot on Facebook.  It's a page very similar to your normal page, with a wall and a place to post pictures, and people can write on your wall etc.  But it's a place where you can be totally professional.  Where people won't stumble on pictures of you on the beach at your cottage.  Anyone can access one of these pages, it's public.  Here's my Facebook Fan Page.
- instead of asking to be your "Friend" and you having to approve their request, people can simply "Like" your page.  They don't need to ask your permission.

- pretty similar to blogging rules, be the person on your Facebook Fan Page that you would be at any professional in person engagement.
- update your page frequently with news or just cool things you find . . .cool.
- and make sure to respond to people when they comment.  Remember, social networking isn't a lecture, it's a seminar - a back and forth.

- ah the totally confusing concept of Twitter.  It seems that until you engage in Twitter you have no idea what its purpose is.
Here's my attempt to explain it:
-Twitter is a website where you sign up for a Twitter account.  Like with a blog, your personal Twitter website will have the "twitter" in it.  So:
- On Twitter you write little tiny posts, no longer than 140 characters.
- Basically I imagine that the people who came up with Twitter thought: "You know, Status Updates on Facebook are fun, what if there was a social networking site that was ONLY Status Updates??"
- there are some important differences though between Facebook and Twitter:
  • On Facebook people "friend" you and you have to approve them
  • On Twitter people "follow" you and unless you "block" them or "report them for spam", your approval isn't required
  • On Facebook you can set up your private Facebook account to only be viewed by approved friends.
  • On Twitter anyone can see your tweets if they type in your Twitter address
Do you see what's going on here?  Yes.  Twitter is more akin to a Facebook Fan Page, then the normal Facebook page.
- this means everything you tweet goes public.  Anyone, including your mother, can see your tweets.
- this is important because there have been many many many incidents where authors have said something naughty and have gotten in a great deal of trouble because of it because Twitter is PUBLIC.  Even though you can delete tweets, it can often be too late because someone has seen your tweet and maybe taken a screen cap of it or something.

- Other Twitter facts:
  • you can only send private direct messages to someone if you are mutually following each other.  This is the ONLY time tweets are private and not public.
  • Hashtags (#) matter.  You might see me, let's say, tweet something like this:  "OMG, have you seen these goggles?  They are so cool! #Steampunk" - any word that follows a # can be clicked on and then suddenly the Twitter Feed (the place where all the tweets by the people you are following show up) changes to a list of tweets by people using #Steampunk.  Anybody else who is interested in the same hashtag can read your tweet.  Including people who aren't following you.
  • if there was any social networking site where "it's a conversation, not a lecture" matters most, it's here.  Reply to people.  This isn't just a place to show off, it's a place to engage, to have conversations, to make new friends. 

- networking, networking, networking
-Some might also say marketing, but see the problem is, people have gotten wise to the "hey everybody buy my book!" technique and can I just say . . . they HATE it.  Can you blame them?  It's really boring following someone and seeing nothing but self promotion in their feed.
- people want to follow compelling people.  They don't want to feel like they are being taken advantage of.
- this means that when you tweet, tweet about your books, sure, but also tweet about the writing process, share a link about a cool new toy you saw or a news article that frustrates you and, like I said above, reply to people.
- I mentioned hashtags above, well there are a lot of literary conversations that happen on Twitter on a regular basis where if you click on the hashtag you can easily follow.  ie: #litchat

- how do you get people to follow you?
  • follow people: as an author follow bookstores, libraries, authors, agents, editors - you can do a search and type in key words like "author" or "library" to find such types
  • reply to tweets that interest you, engage in conversation
  • engage in hashtag chats, I've met so many cool people that way

- think, please please please, think.  Think before you Tweet.
- don't just self promote, get involved, get to know people
- have fun.  People think Twitter is a chore when they don't know it, but Twitter is probably one of the easiest ways to engage people.  It takes but a moment to write a Tweet, less time certainly than writing a blog post (any guesses how many days this one took?).
- share, but don't share everything.  Like I've said with all the other posts, be the person you'd be in person at a professional engagement.

- I'm going to be perfectly honest with you guys about this one.  I really feel that right now Myspace is pretty useless for an author, or indeed most people aside from musicians.  People abandoned it as a social site when Facebook came along, and the only people who really still use Myspace are musicians because it's extremely easy to upload videos and music to that site.  I myself abandoned Myspace when I realised that I wasn't going to miss out on any networking opportunities since most of my fellow authors had already left.  Considering how time consuming social networking can be, it's wise to take stock and if you can abandon a platform, do.  Because it's one less thing you have to tend.

I know very little about Google+.  I am not an early adopter.  I wait and see what happens with things before I jump on board.  I joined Facebook late, Twitter late.  I waited to see who would win the war between HD and Bluray.  I have no need for the prestige of being one of the pioneers.  I want to know if something is worth my time and money after many many people have come to some kind of conclusion. 

I get the impression that many people approve of Google+ though like with all these platforms there are privacy concerns.  I think it is best for me to now link to friend and fellow author Debbie Ridpath Ohi, a total technophile, who has posted her very positive thoughts about Google+ here

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Books!

So I skipped a week of blogging due to being generally overwhelmed with work etc, but I'm back baby!

And what a perfect day to come back on, it's Steampunk Tuesday!  Sweet!

In a previous Steampunk Tuesday we did movies, and I thought it only right to do books this time around.  Because books are awesome.  And they also help us define further what Steampunk is. 

(Because I still maintain, though others disagree [which is cool, man, it's cool] that Steampunk has not exploded onto the scene quite yet.  My proof: my need to constantly define what it is.) 

At any rate.

I gots a couple lists for you.  But I gots to be upfront about them.  They aren't created by me.  Instead they are by the amazing Steampunk Scholar (interview with him coming soon): Mike Perschon.

If you ever felt that my attempts to define and dig into Steampunk were ever so slightly superficial, please check out his blog of awesome.  The guy's doing his PhD on the subject:  Steampunk Scholar.

I have mad respect for this guy, and I very much approve of his lists, so it felt a little silly recreating them when I could just give him the credit for them in the first place. 

Now he has a top ten list of his favourite Steampunk books (which I'll be posting at the bottom of this post), but I like it when he divides up the categories - simply for educational purposes.  If you want something more contemporary, or if you are looking for a classic, they are easier to find in this set of lists.

We begin with his Top Ten New Steampunk (2000 - 2009  <------ yes, this means the list is due for an update, but it's still a pretty great list):

  1. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
  2. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  3. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
  4. Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
  5. Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson
  6. Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  7. Boilerplate by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
  8. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  9. Soulless by Gail Carriger
  10. Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters

I feel a need to add the following mention as this book was listed 5th in our Scholar's Top Ten (as well as his Top Five for 2010) list but was published in 2010 - thus after the above list was created.  And that would be Cherie Priest's DREADNOUGHT:

Now we move onto his Top Five Classic Steampunk (1971-1999):

  1. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
  2. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
  3. The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James Blaylock
  4. The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul DiFilippo
  5. The List of 7 by Mark Frost

And in case you are curious, here is the Scholar's Top Ten Steampunk Books:

  1. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
  2. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld 
  3. Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
  4. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder
  5. Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
  6. Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
  7. Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson
  8. Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  9. Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
  10. The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James P. Blaylock