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Posts by Stephen
We weren’t huggers when I was a child. I have a very specific memory that my mind has labelled as the first time I was hugged, though I don’t know if my recollections can be trusted on this issue. It was in high school, by a friend, and I can’t have gone that long. Can I?
My parents were born in England in the early part of the 20th century. They were lovely people and I miss them deeply. However, my dad was not an overly sentimental man. He had little time or patience for overly emotional gestures, and was deeply interested in social justice and fairness. He was also fair and expected us to do the best we could, pushing when we needed it, but not blaming us for our failures. My mother, I think, was the more emotional one of the two, though I think she pushed it down and maintained a reserve she didn’t necessarily feel to stay in line with my father’s natural reticence.
I remember being fed, clothed and cared for. I remember we laughed a lot and our home was always open to friends and even strangers who needed a refuge or a meal or just a place to spend a holiday. My parents knew what it meant to come to a new country and start over, and they never forgot the kindnesses that others had given them. We often had other newcomers in our home for Christmas.
But I don’t remember hugs. (more…)
“When I think of home
I think of a place
where there’s love overflowing”
Sorry to have gone MIA for the last few weeks, but there has been a lot going on since I blogged last, and much of it has to do with home. The idea of home. The reality of home.
Like so many other people, I am not a native Torontonian. In fact, I used to joke that it always shocked me when I met someone who actually WAS from here. I’m from Saskatchewan originally, and lived there for thirty five years before I moved to Toronto. Because I lived there for so long, most of my remaining family is there, as well as many of my dearest friends. I like to go home every year to see everyone and spend time seeing people who have been in my life, if not for the whole span, then for decades, going back as far as high school.
And that’s where the duality comes in. We need words for “the home where I live” and “the home I come from.” I wonder if other languages make this linguistic distinction.
So, for two weeks every summer, I get to spend time immersed in love, having dinner and long talks and endless cocktails and coffee. And on some levels, it makes my heart ache for a depth of emotion and experience that is much harder to find or attain here. It makes me yearn for a simpler, quieter life, surrounded by love. I often spend at least part of my time in Moose Jaw (yes, it’s a real place) and Saskatoon wondering if I could build a new life there.
But, here’s the thing: that time I spend there is, in many ways, artificial. Not the emotions or the love I feel for so many people there, but the circumstances that drive the emotional intensity are specific and situational. I get to see these people once a year. People make time because I’m there, and we do something special and get to catch up on all of the things we’ve missed since we saw each other. There’s a…purity to the experiences we share and it’s because of the rarity. I’m self-aware enough to know that, if I lived there, then there’s a good chance that we wouldn’t socialize as often or as intensely as we do when I only visit once a year. (more…)
I’m attracted to men. I have been as long as I can remember, even back before my body was even capable of attraction. When I was a child, I identified with the female characters much more than the men, mostly because they got to be close to all the men I admired most, whose attention I craved. It wasn’t that I felt that I was anything other than male myself, it was that, somehow, I believed that identifying with those women was the way to get closer to those beautiful men.
As soon as there were words to describe my desires, I knew their truth, even if it took years to accept them and truly claim them as my own. It was the Seventies and those words were only just being spoken openly, and only in larger, more cosmopolitan places than my home town. Well, the words were spoken, but only as weapons, with no other intention than to draw blood. But, I knew who I was. And when the opportunity came to act on it, I did. And eventually, I even came to accept it and speak it proudly. (more…)
So, you’ve built a world. You might not know all the details yet, but you have the basics down, and have begun to answer the questions of why the story is taking place when and where it does. Now, you have to get down to telling the story, putting together the elements that make up your narrative structure.
People often ask about the how of writing, the nuts and bolts of the process of coming up with an idea and following it through to a final form, be it short story, novel, essay, or memoir. But the thing is, ask a dozen writers and you’ll get a dozen answers, all different and all specific to writer and the genre and the stage of that writer’s career. So, I figured I’d throw my two cents, or my three ideas, into the ring along with all the others
I’ve talked in previous posts about how I’ve arrived at specific ideas or decisions in my own writing, even talked about the process of world-building. Where world-building is more about creating the back drop for the story, and the conditions where it can occur, this is more about the story telling process, the business of creating a plot and crafting a narrative that makes use of the world you’ve built. (more…)
As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to think of the world building process as Decision>Question>Implication. You come up with your premise and begin asking questions about what the premise requires your world to contain, then you explore the ramifications of the choices you’ve made and the questions you’ve asked.
It’s important to remember that world building choices extend in all directions. And what I mean by this is that they come from somewhere, they affect the world and characters in the present and they drive the story forward in specific ways. Once you’ve made a decision as to where your story idea springs from, be it a character, situation, or some other detail that inspires you to write the story down, then the process of building the world begins.
Let’s take a basic, fairly simple idea and start from there: a child has wings.
The process of building in the details starts in the past. Was the child born with wings? Did they grow over time or suddenly? Do we know what the cause of the colour is? Is it genetic? Were the wings grafted on? Are they biological or some kind of technology? Was there some kind of genetic manipulation? Was it a spell or a curse of some kind? How long has the child been living with them? Is it something new that they are dealing with, or are we meeting them when they’ve been dealing with it for a long time. Making these decisions define the the parameters of the universe your characters inhabit and how your story unfolds from there. Is it a universe of science or one of magic? If the wings were created artificially, is the process well known or something clandestine that should have remained secret? These questions about the causes that led to your narrative decision provides the foundation for choices you’ve made and where they’re going to lead. (more…)
I write science fiction (no, DUH), space opera specifically. And it’s either a case of choosing a genre to match my skill set, or developing skills over the years that served my genre choice, but I’ve been told I am skilled at world building, which is a fundamental skill when writing spec fic of any kind.
I’ve never really written stories set in the real world. Writing in the real world means research. If I’m writing a story based in London, I’d better have lived there, spent a lot of time there, or spent a lot of time in a library. If I decided to write in Toronto, it would be easier, but, honestly, I don’t want to be constrained by the fact that the CN Tower is beside the Rogers Centre. Maybe I’m just a control freak.
I’m honestly a little hesitant to talk about this, because when I’m making decisions about the settings I put my characters in, I make a lot of decisions based on what feels right, without actually quantifying they why of the decision. This piece is me trying to get at those reasons.
When I’m writing, I start with addressing the basic needs of the story. If the story requires your characters to travel from planet to planet, then you have to have some kind of system for that. Is it FTL? Wormhole? Some kind of long distance teleportation? Each will give your story a specific feeling and tell you something about your society. Some kind of interplanetary teleportation means that your society is extremely advanced, and that means you have to deal with a lot more. How have humans changed? How does the economy work? What other comparable advancements have been made? When I was working on Soul’s Blood, I wanted travel to take time, because I wanted to write scenes with the characters filling time. I wanted it there to be an element of challenge for them. Humans could travel between the stars, but it took them some time. So I settled on a form of hyperspace FTL tech that shortened the massive interplanetary distances. (more…)
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
If you know your Science Fiction, and maybe even if you don’t, you recognize the iconic line from the HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL was the artificial intelligence who, while incredibly smart, was driven to violence by the directives provided by his human creators.
Artificial intelligence is a staple of science fiction, and it’s a trope that enables writers to examine what it means to be human, what it means to create life and what our responsibility to that life we create actually is. And further, it enables us to tell stories about what that life might want to do to us in return.
There have been brilliant examples of stories in the AI genre. Colossus: The Forbin Project is a terrifying vision of what could happen if the tools of war are handed over to a machine intelligence designed to make war more efficient. The Terminator, with all it’s lean savagery, is another take on what happens when the machines come online and want control. (more…)
Other than in my first attempt at novel writing, which we shall speak of no more, for it is legendary in its awfulness, I write queer characters. They aren’t all queer, but my heroes are. The whole raison d’etre of both my standalone novel, Chasing Cold, and my Maverick Heart series is to write the kind of heroes I loved growing up, but make them unapologetic in whatever flavour of queerness they called their own.
In the early days of what would eventually become Soul’s Blood, I submitted to a press in Edmonton run by Candas Jane Dorsey. As it turned out, I was going to be in town, and she very graciously took me to lunch and gave me feedback on my very early efforts. And one of her comments formed a cornerstone of how the novel and series would grow.
In the initial incarnations, Keene and Daevin were initially forced apart because Daevin’s father was bothered by Daevin being in love with a man. It was the late eighties/early nineties when the novel was first conceived and I was living in a city where there were no Pride celebrations, no businesses that specifically targeted the queer community, other than the one gay bar. In many ways, we still lived our lives in shadow. (more…)
I have loved Space Opera since I was three.
That was when the original Star Trek series aired on one of the only two channels that were available in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1966, and it was something we, as a family watched. I remember my mother being certain that the sight of one alien in the closing credits (Balok from The Corbomite Maneuver) would scare me too much, so she charged my sisters with distracting me so I wouldn’t see it.
Of course, when I finally did, I wasn’t bothered at all.
Star Trek truly entered my consciousness in the Seventies during first run syndication after school. When I rediscovered it, I would race home and hope it was one I hadn’t seen yet. Not that it mattered. I watched them over and over, poring over every detail, memorizing the look, the ideas, the performances. I tried over and over to build the Enterprise with my Lego. And this was back in the day when there weren’t any specially shaped blocks, just flat bits, rectangles and squares. My love for the show just continued to grow. (more…)