Sunday, 12 April 2015

Fiction, Farewells and Fortunate Finds

The word of the week is pernicious.

April 6 – Locks!

My bike’s out of my bedroom, finally: I have locks!

The super-heavy-duty New York lock arrived today, along with a 7-ft cable accessory. I wasted no time in moving my loaner bicycle into my new first-floor storage unit, wrapping the cable around a standpipe in the ceiling( how convenient! )and locking that through the U-lock to the frame, thusly in the middle image:

Add a nice little lock on the outside of the storage unit and presto: secured. I’d prefer to lock the frame directly to something more substantial( say, a eyebolt anchored directly to concrete )but I’m willing to concede the point as the bike’s out of view and indoors, as opposed to outdoors and exposed to random thieves. The only folks with access to the storage unit are residents( needing two keys, no less! )and the bike is behind one of many identical wood doors. It’s plenty secure for me.

Sure, it’s a pain the petootie to unlock, put the front wheel back on and wheel outside through multiple doors, but I’ll still do that rather than leave a bike of mine outside ever again. I sure do wish I had a balcony I could store it on, but that’d mean I’d be to be on the second floor and that provides its own set of getting-it-outside challenges every time I want to cycle somewhere.

Maybe I should just come up with a way to eliminate theft in the city? Perhaps get myself one of these and wander around at night:

April 7 – Fiction Firsts!

I'm constantly saving writing advice that I find.

Seeing as there's such huge quantities out there, very selective about what I for research purposes in future use. Every writer you ask will have something different to say about the process, because writing is a very personal thing: everyone does it differently.

I try to find authors whose work I admire and thus whittled down my lists considerably; only general advice is really transferable between genres, much like a neurosurgeon trying to give job tips to a pediatrician… it’s just not really applicable unless they’re talking about generalities.

Some authors do make a point of offering advice to every writer. One of those wonderful folks is the well-known David Gerrold, who also writes about the evolution of science fiction, which he experienced first-hand from the fifties onward. He wrote about how Harlan Ellison, one of my favourite authors, inspired a generation in the sixties single-handedly with an ambitious anthology:

DANGEROUS VISIONS was a breakthrough moment for the genre. It was the prestige anthology. But more than that, it was a demonstration that the field could and should upend complacency. You can go back to that book today and think, "Well, some of these stories don't hold up, and some aren't really all that dangerous," and you would be right -- but the underlying mission statement is still visible: Write that story that you want to write, but no one else will publish. Be dangerous.
That book transformed science fiction. Because from that moment on, everything was possible. The success of the book emboldened authors, editors, and publishers.
But every time he gave that speech, he inspired authors. He challenged us to do better, to be better, to write better, to think outside the ghetto. And because of that, many authors took on that challenge and tackled subjects and ideas that previously we did not believe were salable, let alone publishable.

Honestly, I live for such anecdotes regarding science fiction and writing overall. They show how the field has developed and broadened to include writers of all kinds, exploring the limits of the genre instead of trying to operate within the confines of artificial boundaries.

Which is why grateful to both Mr. Gerrold and Mr. Ellison: they’re the kind of writers who always, first and foremost, make their readers ask what those boundaries are and why we need to go beyond them.

April 8 – Blueprints Found!

Today, an example of thinking outside the box ironically arrived in a box, by mail.

Back in 2011, I lamented the fact that an amazing Star Wars book had arrived on the market yet was so insanely expensive that I couldn't ever afford it, not even when it went on sale for half-price for a single week in 2013.

Star Wars Blueprints, a massive 336-page, coffee-table-sized tome weighing over a pound and a half, listed at $500.00 USD when it was made available back then. Only 5,000 hand-numbered copies were produced, a relatively low number and today a copy will set you back twice that price. Knowing that this book would be in instant classic, I desperately wanted to buy one during the one-week sale in 2013 but I just didn't have the money to spare, nor could I bring myself to ask anyone to lend such a sum for such a frivolous purchase, at least as I considered it.

Fast forward to 2015 and me, browsing, when what should I find?

The exact same book, all 336 glorious colour pages, available for $99.00 – my eyes nearly bugged out. I checked all the stats: same page count, illustrations, author… everything, even the weight, was identical. The only difference: it wasn’t a limited edition of 5,000 - which matters not a whit to me.

That's my Pebble watch for size comparison.

The book arrived in the mail today and I browsed through the first section lovingly, almost overwhelmed by the sheer detail packed into every page, photos and accompanying text both. My fondness for technical drawings has stayed strong ever since I was a kid, informing my present-day love of science fiction and to me, this massive tome is one giant love letter to one of my favorite films, Star Wars. Sure, it's pricey, but not nearly as much as the limited-edition from a few years ago - lesson learned.

I’ll be browsing through it slowly over the next long while, savoring the details of every page, pinching myself that I'm not dreaming and that this incredible book I never thought I'd have is actually sitting on my coffee table in pride-of-place.

April 9 – Financial Farewells!

Today I took another big step towards financial freedom.

Actually, it was about three weeks ago that I set foot into a local credit union and open an account, having not 5 minutes previously left my bank at a calm stroll, yet furious inside all the same as I walked through the door.

I've been told yet again that the bank I'd been with for over two decades wasn't willing to work with me towards a future that I wanted. As far as I was concerned, that was the last time I was going to be told such a thing by that bank: I’ve been a model client, never missing payments or causing trouble, while using products that the bank offered and trying new ones as my needs changed.

I’ve decided my needs are still changing and they no longer include a bank.

At the credit union today, several products I applied for were all approved, as I knew they would be given my current state of employment and credit rating, neither of which seem to matter to my old bank. The staff at the credit union have been more than accommodating and I'll be switching my monies over to my new accounts over the next few months. It's a heady feeling, in some ways and while I'm still angry at my bank, I understand that business is business. As I don't have any tangible assets to leverage, I am a low-ranking tadpole in their pond of big fish and I don't see how I can change that in order to be a better customer, given my chosen lifestyle sans car, house or other major assets.

As you may well know, writers don't exactly roll in the dough, but I'm good with that. I don't need money to make myself happy, just enough to be comfortable within very reasonable limits. That's all I ask.

In any case, I'm done with the old. My future lies elsewhere, with an institution that wants to help me to achieve what I want instead of repeatedly telling me that I have to live within the constraints of the box that they've drawn around me according to their rules.

I don't plan on living under the constraints made by someone else the rest of my financial life.

April 10 – Fan Feedback!

What a day!

Not once, but twice in one day, something amazing came my way: positive feedback!

Now, as some of you know, I've been getting regular( and wonderful! )feedback from my critique group for the last two years on my novel trilogy. It's been incredibly helpful and I'm so lucky to have found the people I have to help me along my path as an author, while doing the same for them. It's been fantastic to get that sort of help as I create my trilogy’s world.

However, I didn't get nearly as much feedback while writing my story Darkening Light for the Dark Crystal AuthorQuest back in late 2013. One of my critique group members did provide some extremely helpful feedback before the final version was ready, but I received next to no  feedback on the story once it was done and out in the world.

Until today, when several comments I made on a post in a Dark Crystal FBook group resulted in some incredible feedback from two people, one of whom was none other than the current author of the forthcoming Dark Crystal YA novel, the winner of the AuthorQuest contest!

As it turns out, he had read my story last year after it and the works of the other AQ semifinalists were sent to him by Cheryl Henson to read over on the plane to NYC. He had lovely things like this to say:

The thing that stuck out most to me about your story was technical and stylistic skill. Of all the stories I read (including the other finalist entries) I thought your skill with the writing portion of the project was absolutely the strongest. I could tell you have done some heavy writing before, and as a lifestyle; all that was very evident. And I don't just mean nuts and bolts. You also used figurative language in an organic, sensible way. Your scenic descriptions were effortless and succinct.

On top of that, one of the group members stumbled across my story notes on the official DC site and was intrigued enough to read the story( I’m not sure why he didn’t see the story first )and write a review. He had this to say when he was only half-done the story:

You can read the brief, glowing feedback that he left for me:

Peter, DARKENING LIGHT was a treat to read. I loved the characters you created. I have to admit that Drik was my favorite. He was fun to read. “Do we have to listen to all this?” grumbled Drik… “It’s getting past midfeast and I’m known to be grumpy when I don’t eat on time.”
I felt like you really pulled from all aspects of DC lore to create your submission – even Legends of the Dark Crystal, which sometimes gets overlooked. Very nice...   The new DC novel was begging for great ideas to be added to the lore. It was no surprise to see that you made it in the Top 20. Overall, you have a really awesome perspective of the DC world. I wish I knew more about these Neltik – nighttime creatures tied to their Meenah trees. They’re like Thra’s equivalent of vampires, or another monster that stalks the night.
Thank you for sharing your submission with the Dark Crystal community! Again, this was treat! 

It’s receiving positive pushes like this that keeps me going, affirmations that my writing is progressing and maturing. That I’m reaching people through my words, getting them to feel the emotions I want to convey and to see the worlds I create as I want them to be: full of wonder and delight, with just a touch of darkness to make the mix settle just right in their minds.

April 11 – Frames For Less!

Last year, I picked up some wonderful eyeglasses for practically nothing online.

Shopping at Zenni Optical, I was stunned by what I could get for around $100 USD( with a great exchange rate at the time, I might add ): two pairs of glasses with special coatings on rather thin lenses and more. Even with two clip-on sunglass shades and shipping, it was a far cry from the nearly $700.00 that some of the local stores were charging.

Recently, my mind started wondering exactly why there is so much of a gap between the cost of products online and in my local eyewear stores. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes of research to find this extremely informative clip from a 60 Minutes special on eyewear:

Essentially, it boils down to this: when take any necessary product that people don't know the true cost of and combine it with a worldwide monopoly, you have created the ability for companies to set at whatever level they see fit. If people don't want to pay it, they will do without and in the case of eyeglasses, that's asking for a lot, considering that people need them to function on a daily basis.

Where I come from, that's called extortion.

April 12 Game Of Thrones!

Lots done this weekend, with some writing in the mix: counts as a win.

Plus, it didn’t rain, though the air pressure yo-yo’d enough to make it challenging to ward off headaches. Nothing I’m not used to, however; double negatives aside, it was a good weekend.

Aaaaannnd: Season 5 of Game Of Thrones premiered tonight!

I was going to wait to watch the show later in the week, when I could find it online. But as things would have it, Shaw wisely anticipated the GoT demand this time of year: for a measly $9.00 a month( on a three-month promo )I added HBO plus another few movie channels. Presto, instant Game Of Thrones each week – totally worth every dollar and in HD too!

Minor spoilers below.

Tonight's episode was over far too quickly, which surprised me. It shouldn't have, as there's so much going on in the show now, though the massive reduction in characters over the last four seasons has meant that the overall number of plot lines is considerably less. I think that the season is going to get into the most interesting aspects of the world: how the characters who remain will maneuver to place themselves in the larger conflict that has been foreshadowed for the last few years. Seeing how the seven kingdoms interact with each other as well as the threat of the White Walkers from the north, tossing in a few dragons along the way, will be a sight to see.

I can hardly wait to see what next week's episode will bring!

So I guess it's just down to work, writing and Game Of Thrones for the next few months. Nothing wrong with any of those things, really!