Point Zero – Word of the Day – Cloister

Every generation has a disaster that is etched into their memories. My grandparents had JFK, my parents had 9/11, and we had first contact.

It was a cool August night in my childhood hometown. It had a name at the time, something nature related that no cares about; now it’s called Point Zero. It was a small town barely numbering in the four digits. I sat on the duck in the grade school playground, it sprung back and forwards every time I took a drink from the bottle of vodka in my hand.

The small schoolyard had a fence around it. You could say that the yard was as cloistered from the town as the town was from the rest of the world. Other than the media from the outside world, Point Zero was its own little world.

The five of us sat on various remnants of our youth and drank to forget that we’d be leaving soon. Each of us heading to a college, university, or apprenticeship. I was supposed to be leaving the next day; I’d managed an apprenticeship with my uncle as an electrician at the new diamond mine near Timmins.

Frank was going into theatre in Toronto, Mel was heading to Vancouver for animation, Jane was going to study and travel the world in Ottawa, and finally James was going to save the world on the east coast.

“Is it a relief to have found what you want to do for the rest of your life James?” asked Mel.

“Sure,” her replied tentatively.

“Must be nice to have found your porpoise.” She burst into giggles and the rest of us groaned. We’d been friends our whole lives and despite multiple hiccups we’d managed to stay together.

“What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you’re on your own?” Frank asked the group.

“I’d say get drunk, but I’m not doing that anymore.” Jane shook her fourth beer before adding, “Without you freaks to keep me safe, I’m going to be paranoid of everyone.”

“I’m going to make a huge chocolate cake, with chocolate icing, and I’ll eat it without having my mom yelling at me.” Mel’s mom was a diet freak and severely allergic to chocolate. I’d once forgotten to brush my teeth before coming over at Halloween and almost sent the woman to the hospital.

“I’m going to go swimming in the ocean,” James said wistfully.

“How about you Sam?” Frank asked me, his green eyes seemed to glow in the yellow streetlight.

I took another swig of vodka to avoid answering the question. I’d had a crush on Frank since… well since I met him in kindergarten. Tonight was my last chance, so I thought, to tell him how I felt.

“I don’t know,” I replied lamely.

“Going to stay current?” Mel’s pun fell flat as the park was flooded with bright green light and searing fire. I still have nightmares about the green fire, the smell, and the pain.

The entire thing felt like it lasted minutes, but when we awoke on the glass surface known as Point Zero it was three months later and the five of us were alone.


If you enjoyed this word of the day story, you can find more on our stories page and catch up on this year’s serial story, Devices of Desire

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In defence of reading for pleasure

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

In fiction, there is a serious case of classism. Multiple serious cases or classism actually, but I’m going to talk about one that pisses me off personally.

Just because a story isn’t dark and brooding, or doesn’t make you cry at the indignities of life, doesn’t mean that it should be held to different standards.

Fluff, Light, Dumb, Popcorn, Adventure, and Popular are all ways of describing things that are categorised as lesser in quality. As they are automatically lesser, they are then considered immune to certain criticism.

Let’s take Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s a nostalgia-driven love letter to the 80’s. So much so that the plot, politics, and characters are all 80’s stereotypes. That’s not a good thing. The plot is lazy, the characters hateful, the diversity forced and self-congratulatory. I’d go as far as saying the book isn’t just bad, it encourages a level of navel gazing and retro social politics that are toxic.

When discussing this book on panel The Nights at the Round Table, panelists gave it a pass because it was a Light Fun Cottage read. I am not attacking the panelists, they are wonderful people whom I care deeply for!

As consumers we’ve been told our entire lives that there are two classes of writing, the fluff and the serious. Over the years that has changed. Early examples of light fluffy reading is anything by Jane Austin, who is now considered a classic author (Deservedly so she’s fantastic). Shakespeare was the Michael Bay of his time.

#HoldFluffAccountable

Disclaimer: I am an Adventure writer. What I write is considered low-brow fluff even by the most adamant genre writers. I also read a great deal of what people call stupid fun (Urban Fantasy, Supernatural Horror, Genre YA, etc.) so obviously my opinion is skewed.

I hate that no matter how much thought I put into my writing, it will always be considered low-class and fluff. BUT I hate so much more that books and movies that fall into the same categories are immune to criticism and analysis unless they are extremely popular or extremely depressing.

You can read for pleasure and still be immensely touched and even enriched by any form of story. Books by Laura Resnick, Tanya Huff, Seanan Maguire, or Tamora Peirce have worlds as detailed and content a deep/meaningful as anything in hard Science-Fiction or epic Fantasy.

There are themes and stories inside superhero films that are just as dark or just as thought provoking as the latest drama/tragedy.

When you dismiss a story as not worthy of criticism, you are accepting that story’s flaws and normalizing its harm. It’s the popular fluff that will cause the most damage because it’s what more people read or watch. You must hold it accountable for its flaws and its mistakes.

There shouldn’t be two classes of story and you have the power to change that by holding them all accountable and by critically analyzing everything.

 

Later Days,

Éric

 

 

 

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Dear Ghostbusters Haters: GET OVER IT!

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Let’s talk about stories. We as a species have been telling each other tales, probably as long as we’ve had language to tell them.

In school you most likely learned that there are only 3 kinds of narrative conflicts:

  • Person Vs Person;
  • Person Vs Self; or
  • Person Vs Nature.

Theoreticians, specifically Christopher Booker, have said that there are a limited amount of stories that can be told (Seven if you’re interested). A lot of those that don’t agree with Christopher Booker, agree that we have told every story that can be told. That brilliant concept you have for a novel? It’s been done. That cool hook for a D&D game? Done! That awesome 3 cord progression for a pop song? Done, Done, Done!

If it has all been done, what’s the point?

Every human being is different. Everyone sees the world through a completely different lens. What I understand isn’t what you understand.

When we write, we’re writing about our hopes, dreams, fears, and realities. This means that even if 100 people wrote a variation of Robin Hood, they would all be completely different. They would reflect the person, bias, and society they live in. (Side note: it’s quite possible that 100 is an understatement for Robin Hood.)

Combining and building stories is a form of entertainment but it’s also a way to re-enforce morals, express ideas, and explain difficult concepts.

Writing or telling a story is never a wasted exercise, it’s a form of expression.

Attachment and Emotion (AKA: My Precious!)

To Gollum, the One Ring was his purpose for life, it was everything to him. To Bilbo and Frodo, it was a security blanket; to Sauron, it was a Horcrux and means to power; but to Sam it was just a burden.

Like the Ring, people get attached to stories. They can illicit memories and emotions of a better, or perceived better, time and place. Attributing more value to a story is a form of nostalgia and often clouds peoples judgement as to the quality of the story.

What you get from a story isn’t what someone else gets. One person might find the love story between Buffy and Angel as romantic and another might find it disturbing. The reason is that we filter everything we experience through our own bias, lens, and ideals.

Precious

Don’t be Gollum

Once you accept that everyone already has their own version of stories, you have the choice to either open up your mind and learn from others, or be a Gollum and cling angrily to your version. This gets even worse with re-tellings, re-imaginings, or remakes.

The important thing to remember is that your Precious isn’t going anywhere. No one is going to burn all the other versions, no one is going to erase them, they’re still there for you to enjoy.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS RUINING YOUR CHILDHOOD!

I’ve heard this phrase a lot and the memories you have of your favourite Precious, cannot and should not be tarnished by a new version.

The only way something can be ruined for you is if you re-watch it and realize that it was crap all along. But that doesn’t negate your emotions or the enjoyment you had watching it for the first time.

Ghostbusters

It’s officially the most hated movie trailer on Youtube. You’ll find more anger towards it in internet comments sections than any other human endeavor. There are conspiracy theories that anyone who liked it was paid to say so by Sony.

The hate for the movie is completely unjustified. It is a re-telling of a movie that was a re-telling of other myths. (Frankly it would be easy enough to map the journey of the heroes with the traditional Hero’s Journey, or more specifically, a rip off of Beowulf.)

I realize that most of the hate for this movie is misogyny veiled as nostalgia, but that’s a whole other post.

Ghostbusters

Conclusion: Get Over It!

Stories will be told and re-told ad nauseum, either get over it or stop consuming anything new. It’s not your place to dictate what others create or consume. If you believe it is, you’re wrong.

 

Myths, Legends, and Stories will continue to be explored. It’s human nature to explore our existence through stories. What better way to explore themes of humanity than by re-telling our favourite stories?

Éric

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Too Female? #TooFemale

Last Monday, I found out that CBS had passed on the new Nancy Drew TV series. Not because the pilot tested badly (it tested really well) but because it was “Too Female”.

My only reaction was: Ugh!

CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day talked about it that night.

Sarah Shahi – Filming ‘Nancy Drew’ in New York City 3/19/2016 - celebmafia.com
Sarah Shahi – Filming ‘Nancy Drew’ in New York City 3/19/2016 – celebmafia.com

What do they mean by Too Female?

It could mean a lot of things but mostly it means that they believe that it won’t appeal to their core demographic. Which is apparently mostly men between the age of 18 and 49. Which is the demographic that most networks seem to be targeting.

That’s why you get a kickass character like Detective Kate Beckett (Castle) and Doctor Constance Brennan (Bones), but the studio insists that they work with a male lead. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the male is just boring like Body of Proof where the male cops were about as interesting as the corpses. (Mostly less.)

Rarely do you get a mystery show where you have a female lead that isn’t saddled with a male partner to appeal to the “male demographic”. Other than Veronica Mars and Murder She Wrote, the only one I can think of is Rizzoli & Isles.

Does Gender Matter?

From a story perspective; no. You can tell a fantastic story with a male or a female lead.

From a demographics perspective; I don’t know. I’m not your typical man and I can’t speak for all men. I enjoy female leads, and I think a smart intelligent character is awesome. Female led shows have done well in the past; Veronica Mars, Buffy, Xena, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek Voyager, etc.

I have gotten more than one funny look when I’ve mentioned my love for Gilmore Girls or Disney Princess movies, so the stereotype is there.

The one place that it absolutely matters is in representation. I can turn on the tv and press any combination of buttons and there’s a huge chance that I’ll end up on a show with a main character that looks like me. (White male, 18-49) There are good guys that look like me, bad guys, smart, dumb, etc. etc. etc.

We don’t have the same for women. It’s improving but it’s not there yet.

And that’s not mentioning other gender identities, sexual preferences, cultures, ethnicities, etc.

What Can We Do?

Find and Enjoy the #TooFemale shows out there with well written female leads. Share your love on social media, buy the merchandise, go see the movies.

My experience is limited, but the following TV shows have female leads that kick ass (figuratively and literally) and are still on the air. Check them out, and if you love them let the world know:

There are LOTS more but these are the ones I’ve watched and enjoyed.

While you’re feeling active, sign the Agent Carter to Netflix petition.

 

Go and shamelessly enjoy all the “Too Female” shows. They’re usually better written anyway.

Éric

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Santa (or should we tell children the secret?)

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Let’s talk about the most imaginary of friends, Santa Claus. I read an article called “In Defence of Santa Claus” and it made me think. (Sorry, no angry rant)

MerryOldSanta

I’m not sure what to do when I, eventually, have children. I discovered the truth about Santa when I was relatively young. It wasn’t a shock or really much of anything. I just realized that my mom and brother had put out the presents.

My wife, on the other hand, was told on the bus and got into a fight (not physical – it involved a lot of yelling) about it and wouldn’t believe it even when her parents told her.

Why was it harder for her than for me? I don’t know. Maybe it was the level of honesty of our parents? My wife’s parents were always completely honest with her.

My mom, on the other hand, reveled in telling fanciful lies. She had me convinced for a long time that one of our ancestors had created French Fries. She even had a long elaborate story to go with it. It was her way of both teasing and training me not to believe everything I hear. They were always interesting and fun. (I miss her.)

So what does that mean? What does a little fib matter if it brings magic to the holidays? Saying that Santa brings magic, makes it sound like those who discover the secret don’t have magical holidays. That’s simply not true. There’s something special about the holidays that is more than the sum of its parts.

I’m leaning towards letting my future kids know that it’s a story. Does that make me:

What’s your opinion on Santa? Malicious lie or Fanciful fib?

Éric

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Writing About Death

Hello Imaginary Friends,

I suck with negative emotions. I seriously have issues handling them. My normal reactions are to either get angry or numb. Sometimes both.

Whenever I need to deal with those kinds of feelings I write about them. (sorry for being a meta.) If I could deal with every situation by writing at or about it, I’d be a lot more comfortable. Obviously this isn’t a viable way to deal with the world. You have to go out there and hug people and feel your way through things. But written words are so much more safe.

Death is the most terrifying and the most life changing of all. In genre writing there is a stereotype of the death loving author. We cackle in glee as we kill one character after another, happily ripping your heart out. It’s a stereotype that writers love to promulgate and it’s a total lie.

We hate killing characters as much as you hate it, sometimes more. Remember that our imaginations brought them into the world and through a quirk of storytelling they had to die.

It’s an unwritten rule that death, in stories, must have a reason. Even when it seems utterly senseless, in a story there is always a reason for death. It’s such a major life changing and emotionally charged event that it has no choice but be important.

It’s easy for a writer to overuse death and with time it starts to lose its significance and the reader becomes desensitised. A good writer will make you feel and think about the death and let you grieve. A bad writer will pile bodies up like a bad slasher movie.

The essential narrative of death in stories makes death in the real world seem ever more senseless and stupid. No matter what we say or do few deaths in the real world make sense.

My in-laws lost their Grand-Matriarch last night. She passed in her sleep surrounded by family in her mid-nineties. It’s a great loss to the entire family and my heart goes out to them.

She was a strong willed woman with a great sense of humour and a large heart.

She’ll be missed.

Éric

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Back from Vacation

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Feels like it’s been a long time. Hope you enjoyed A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Funeral and are enjoying the Serial Story Only Human.

The family and I had a great time in Disney World, which has given me an interesting idea for a series of short stories. Travelling has always given me inspiration, last time I went to Disney I got a great idea for a supernatural fight in an airport that I added to A Memory of Faust, the second Elizabeth Investigates book.

A Study in Aether

Speaking of Elizabeth Investigates, I’ve finished my first pass through the multiple comments from a bunch of Beta-Readers for A Study in Aether. They were super helpful but a little discouraging. The book was written 5 years ago and over 400,000 words ago. (I know right? I’m almost halfway to mythical Million Word rule.) If you want to discourage someone who creates things, show them their first few tries. Ok so a bunch of people who I respect have told me it was good. It just needs a little polishing. Next phase is to fix the large structural issues and then to do a line by line clean-up. Final phase will be to do some re-writing of the prologue, epilogue, and a few clunky scenes. I’ll hopefully be done by Christmas. Sigh.

Conventions

Cap-Con

I’m feverishly roasting coffee for this weekend when we’ll be selling at Cap-Con, Ottawa’s premier model building competition and convention. Come check us out if you have a chance. I’ll have the following Flavours available in limited quantities.

Pop Expo

We’ve also added another event to our plans. We’ll be selling at Ottawa Pop Expo in November. YAY!

FADDS

We finished our summer long playtest and I’ve ironed out a lot of the kinks in the main system and created a kickass enemy system.

The magic items unbalance the game a little and the creation is overly arcane (pun intended).

I’m currently building a story for my next campaign and I’m considering using FADDS. I get more work done on it when I’m testing it.

 

How was your summer?

Éric

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Funeral – Part 6 (Final)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The transporter was set to drop me into the middle of the funerary celebrations. I had planned to land on the stage next to the priest giving my eulogy. I missed, even being a prophet isn’t fool-proof and I’m certainly more of a fool than I like to admit.

Instead of the stage, I materialized front and centre on the casket. Standing and looking over the crowds I said, “Closed casket was a good idea.”

The priest on the stage blanched, kneeled, and said, “But you’re supposed to be dead.”

“The reports of my death were exaggerated.” As I spoke, I looked around. We were in the anti-grav stadium, the only structure on Venus large enough to hold several million viewers. It was home to the Venusian Vultures, the greatest anti-grav team in the solar system. I’d snuck into more games here as a child than I could remember. I hadn’t seen the playing field this close since I’d first become Sun-Speaker. There were large thrones set up around the stage and casket for each Solar-Monarch. The Venusian Empire had two delegates, their king and queen. I nodded to their queen and my ex-best friends. The Martian thrones were empty and I shook my head. The independent Republic of the Asteroid belt had their president and her wife. The Jupiter Protectorate had their monarchs, and the Uranus Confederate had their current warlord. I did a double take when I saw that the Trans-Neptunian Parliament had sent two of its representatives. The androgynous TNP members nodded at me and were cheeky enough to wink at me.

The crowd had started to applaud quietly when I appeared. Unsure if they should be celebrating or booing. “Friends, Venusians, Countrymen,” some openings for speeches were classic for a reason, “I am alive and I have come here for an explanation. Why have I been declared dead when blood still rushes through my veins?” I paused, turning away from the crowd I spoke to the centre chairs holding the Venusians, “Why?” a few seconds and I repeated, “Why?” The crowd got the idea and soon I had near two million voices chanting with me. It was pretty amazing.

Rising from her chair, Gwindolyn, whom I’d always known as Gwin, the high Queen of Venus and protector of the inner planets lifted her hands silencing the crowd.

“Sun-Speaker, this is not a funeral, this is a trial. We knew your ego would force you to come and face us.” The casket sprouted arms and clasped itself to each of my limbs and my neck. You shouldn’t have come. You knew it was a trap. Gwin spoke to me in my mind, her limited telepathic powers and more than a decade with me allowed her that.

“What are the charges?” I demanded.

Sighing she said, “You are charged with impersonating a Sun-Speaker and abusing the holy rights of that office.”

Dramatically I threw my head back and laughed. “Did you need proof of my office?” I started collecting heat around me slowly preparing for a blast of pure energy.

All the delegates are shielded from heat based attacks.

I know Gwin but it’ll startle the smug little jerks.

“We all know you are powerful. That is not in question. The church of Sol has repealed your status and it is the opinion of this council that you are a fraud.”

“The only frauds I see on sitting on thrones,” I spat out the words with contempt. The crowd cheered, unfortunately they didn’t decide my fate.

“Your contempt for authority of all kinds is well documented.” The Venusian King laughed, sitting as if he were at a show and not a trial.

“Hal, formerly known as the Sun-Speaker, on the charge of impersonating a Sun-Speaker, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty, but you’ve already made up your minds.”

“Had you pleaded guilty we could have shown mercy. Since you deny the obvious, your sentence is immediate death.” I’m sorry Hal. I tried to stop them.

I know Gwin, I smiled up at her. Turning to the crowd I said, “I have acted as the Sun-Speaker for twenty-three glorious years. I regret only that I couldn’t do more.” I took off my official garb and revealed a simple Venusian’s peasants outfit. “Let me die as I was born, one of the nameless, faceless mass, of glorious Venusian people.” I paused. “You are the empire; you are its lifeblood, its strength, and its beauty. Long live the Venusian People. May they someday taste freedom.”

I heard the plasma gun a moment before the searing pain passed through my back and exposed my chest. In my last few moments of life I heard two-million voices rising up in anger chanting, “Freedom.”

***

When my eyes opened again I saw grey ceiling tiles and smelled antiseptic. “If this is the afterlife it needs more interior decorators.” My chest hurt, but when I looked down, the hole I’d seen was gone.

Standing around my bed, Janet, Suzie, Travis, Adric, and Caro smiled down at me. Even dead, they didn’t laugh at my jokes.

“You’re not dead Hal. I used my blood to synthesize more of my serum. You’ll live.” Janet, with the prophetic powers of Caro, had worked up a serum that could heal me.

“I was supposed to die. The revolution…”

“Is twice as strong with a martyr that rose from the grave in front of them,” Caro’s voice echoed in my head.

“What about Sol? Do I…” Sol interrupted me with a huge dump of information, but it only hurt a little. Nothing like it had before.

“Hal, your body reacted oddly to the serum, instead of making you younger it has boosted your natural healing ability to amazing levels.” Janet’s mouth was open.

Sitting up and feeling a phantom ache in my chest I said, “Since I’m not dead, we might as well do some good. Who’s up for saving the Venusian Royal family from an angry mob?”

 

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Funeral – Part 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

I’m not a great man. I’m a glorified do-gooder with a soft spot for underdogs. I’ve made small changes and big changes. All of these have been at the orders of my God and Master Sol but they’ve all been for humanity.

When I die, a small group will mourn and a much larger group will celebrate. Ten years later I’ll be remembered fondly by some and forgotten by most. I’m ok with that. My closest friends will always remember me. They are a loyal, no I mean ridiculously loyal, group.

That’s why I needed to get them away from my funeral and death. If I gave them any chance to save me, they’d all die with me. I couldn’t stomach that idea.

“Where to next, boss?” asked Adric. He’d been on the ship for less than a day and he’d already made it twenty times more efficient and got rid of that annoying rattle in the life support.

“We need one last member of the crew to survive this.” I paused for dramatic effect and the coms bleeped. I pressed the button and a person with shoulder length purple hair appeared on the vid screens.

“Everyone,” I said. “This is Caro. They are the systems strongest telepath and precog.” They all looked from the androgynous figure on the screen and me. “Yes, they are stronger than I am. With the two of us, how could we possibly lose?”

Smiling, the ethereally attractive figure said, “Hal. You’ll have to pick me up on Eris.”

I don’t like this old friend. They spoke to me in my mind from over eighty astronomical units away.

You’ve seen what will happen if you save me. They’ll need your guidance. You’ve always been more careful and wise than me. I was buttering them up and they knew it.

Fine. I’ll do this because I know we will make a better solar system, but I don’t like it.

I know. Neither do I. Goodbye my friend. See you on the other side.

As we’d been speaking they had introduced themselves to the crew and given me coordinates to pick them up.

I must have looked as bad as I felt, for I felt Janet’s hand on my shoulder. I patted the hand and said, “I’m feeling tired. Been a long couple of days. I’ll take a nap. Travis, do you mind?”

“You must be feeling bad if you’re letting me take over.” Travis knew I was a little bit of a control freak.

Standing shakily, I headed to my room. When I’d turned the corner, Suzie walked up behind me and took my arm. “How bad is it?” she asked.

“Bad. One more episode will probably kill me.” I lied. I could have survived at least three more. I leaned on her for support.

“Why haven’t you told Janet?”

“She’ll want to use inhibiters to prevent my contact with Sol. It would save my life but I’d be utterly useless to everyone.”

“Do you really think you’d be useless?” she asked.

“I’m nothing without Sol,” I said, thinking of the boy I was before I became the Sun-Speaker, an orphaned street kid with more brains than sense. Compared to the crew I’d assembled, I was an intellectual dwarf, they didn’t need me.

We reached my room and Suzie let me down on my bunk a little harder than she should have. “You’re an idiot Hal. None of us give a damn about Sol or the messages he gives you. It’s you that we respect and…” she hesitated, trying to decide if she should say what she wanted to.

Reaching out a hand and caressing her cheek, I said what she was too proud to say, “I love you too.”

“Get some rest. We’re going to your funeral but I’d like you to stick around for a while.” She stood up and left.

Waiting until I was sure no one was going to interrupt me I changed into the official draperies of my office as Sun-Speaker and snuck down to the cargo hold. Once inside I went straight for the matter transporter and programmed my coordinates. The mathematical formulae needed to dissolve my form and reassemble it were extra tricky but I had Sol to help.

As I pressed the button, I whispered, “Goodbye, my friends.”

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