For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

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History in our hands

Recently I set up my computer so that rather than a static desktop background, it shuffles through the photos in my scenery album. I should mention that I’ve got photos going back to 2007 on my hard drive – and yes, I’ve got them backed up – when I got my first digital camera, which was a Polaroid PDC 2030. I’ve upgraded since then and now use a Canon DSLR, or my phone if I don’t have the Canon.

Earlier tonight, I was staring at the screen while the microwave warmed my coffee and I realized something I hadn’t thought of before. As I said, I’ve got it set on shuffle so the photos are in random order, or as random as a computer can make them, and some images came up and I said to my cat (who wasn’t listening as usual) “Well, I’ll never be able to take that shot again because that location doesn’t exist.”

If, like me, you enjoy taking photos of scenery, either in your own area or on trips, you too may have images of sites that are no longer there in the same condition they were when you captured their likeness. The current header photo is a good example of that. Two months after I took this shot, a pedestrian bridge was erected across the creek and effectively cut the photo in two, destroying the peaceful scene. And I have other examples as well of places that have been significantly altered by “progress” since I took my shot.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious photographer or just a casual shutterbug, you could have photos of historic significance on your hard drive, or in a box somewhere.

A few years ago, I had a showing at the local library. This show, titled “Listen to the Preacher Man”, consisted of photographs of various churches in southern Durham Region. At the end of the week long show, I asked the head of the historical department of the library if she wanted any of those photos for her files. Of the twelve I’d had on display, she took nine that showed places of worship in Pickering and a part of Ajax called Pickering Village (the original “Pickering”). Suggestion: if you have photos of buildings or areas in the municipality in which you live that no longer exist or have been altered, consider asking the historical department of your local library if they’d like copies. If they accept, while you might not get paid for them, you may be able to negotiate a price for a tax receipt. And, it also means you won’t have to store them any longer.

In the meantime, keep taking those photos and remember to hug an artist, no matter what medium they choose for they need love too. And also – smile for the camera.

Cat.

I’d rather do it myself

I found the following in the comments on WordPress this morning. I’ve removed all references and links that could get me in trouble with WordPress (again).

Hi. I see that you don’t update your page too often. I know that writing content is time consuming and boring.
But did you know that there is a tool that allows you to create new articles using existing content (from
article directories or other pages from your niche)?

And it does it very well. The new articles are high quality and
pass the copyscape test. You should try *** tools

Let’s look at this critically. “I see that you don’t update your page too often”. If I didn’t know the message came from a bot, I’d be flattered that someone checked my page so frequently that they’d noticed.

“I know that writing content is time consuming and boring.” Sorry, but I don’t consider writing as either time consuming or boring. If you consider writing such an onerous task, you shouldn’t be doing it.

“But did you know that there is a tool that allows you to create new articles using existing content (from article directories or other pages from your niche)?” Great. So there is a tool that will write articles for me. Articles that won’t scan the way my writing scans (or doesn’t – your choice) and may not be on a topic I would even consider writing about. Or is this really saying “we have this fabulous tool that will plagiarize other articles and mould them into something new for you.”

I write about whatever stirs my interest and arouses some feeling. That’s why I may not update every day, or week. It depends upon what’s wound me up and whether I feel I can get a decent blog from it. The series “Bring him to justice” is a good example of not writing on a daily or weekly basis. This series deals with a man who didn’t tell his partners he was HIV positive – for at least a decade! As I know people he dated, I’m quite passionate about seeing him before the courts, but I only update when I have concrete information. I won’t print rumours for fear they may jeopardise the Crown’s case or possibly give his victims false hope.

Finally, what the hell is the “copyscape test”?

So, thanks for your offer, but I’d rather do it myself.

Cat.

Bring him to justice – pending

No, I haven’t forgotten about this. I’ll keep writing until the matter is resolved.

George Flowers, aka Mr Flowas, is still in an Ontario jail awaiting his day in court. The wheels of justice are grinding very slowly and finely in this case. The Crown wants to make certain every tittle is in place and every “t” has its crossbar before proceeding. I’m watching the situation carefully and as soon as I have something concrete to report, I’ll do so. I’ve heard many rumours, but other than say that, I won’t dignify them by repeating any of them here.

I ask that you be patient and be assured justice will be served properly and in due course.

Cat.

America, where have you gone?

I am really worried about the future of the United States of America. Let me explain my concerns. Since the spring of 2017, America appears to be on a downward spiral.

Thanks to the rhetoric of the apprentice president, the country seems to be more divided than at any other time in recent history. Emboldened by the vile words that emanated from the election campaign, and the apparent tacit approval of the Oval Office, the white supremacists and other nationalistic groups have attacked, verbally and physically, minorities; people of colour and people of other faiths. Has the apprentice done or said anything to alleviate this dissent and social unrest? No. In fact, when referring to the Charlottesville murder, he is quoted as saying there were probably “good people” on both sides. How the hell can someone who deliberately ran their vehicle into a group of peaceful demonstrators, killing one, be called a “good person?” Just about every day, there are reports of some white person calling the police because they see some black person doing something innocent. The comments issuing from the White House and some of the legislation and executive orders are doing nothing to ease the “us against them’ mentality that seems to have taken hold in the so-called “land of the free”. Or does that phrase have an asterisk after it now: *provided you’re a white American citizen?

Immigrants are being targeted. We’ve all seen or heard of the current situation where children of all ages are being separated from their parents if they try to cross the southern border outside a regular border-crossing point.

The economy is another area the apprentice president seems to be intent on destroying. Trade barriers in the form of tariffs while good in theory, don’t work in practice. When a country imposes punitive duties on imports, two things happen. First, imported goods become more expensive. If the goods are materials for the manufacture of products, the costs are passed along to the end user – you. If finished products are imported, the same thing happens – you end up paying more for that product. Why is this? Simple. Because the manufacturer or importer isn’t going to eat those additional costs since it will affect their profits, therefore the consumer pays more. The second thing trade barriers do is cause the countries affected by American import duties to retaliate by imposing their own extra duties on American products. The result? The other country will buy less from American suppliers because of the extra duties; and they’ll find a manufacturer in some other country that can provide goods of a comparable quality at a lower cost. According to a news report I saw tonight on one of the news channels, at the moment, Washington has imposed punitive extra duties on goods from countries, and had those countries impose similar duties on American goods, that account for two-thirds of American foreign trade. I have read in the last couple of days that BMW, which manufactures vehicles in the US, is going to move some production to China to avoid the tariffs the Chinese have imposed on the import of automobiles manufactured in the US. Even if you’re not an economics major, you know what effect those actions are going to have on the economy of the United States? If you said they will cost jobs, you pass the course.

Internationally, in addition to the imposition of trade barriers, the apprentice appears to have made it his personal mission to alienate nations that have long been staunch allies of the US. His habit of meddling or commenting on the internal affairs of other nations have done much to ensure that other countries don’t like America much right now. Just today, at the NATO meeting in Brussels, he tore a strip of Germany for their reliance on natural gas from Russia, going so far as to call Germany “a slave of Russia”. I’m certain that Angela Merkel loved hearing that from someone many in her country consider a buffoon. In the meantime, while driving allies away, he is making efforts to become friends with Vladimir Putin, the leader of a country long considered America’s sworn enemy.

The military is another area that seems to have attracted the attention of “the powers? that be”. Having failed to have any and all transgender members discharged, they have turned their attention to immigrants serving in the armed forces. Some are being discharged, often with no reason given, or a vague “national security” reason, with no specifics provided. Such action can only serve to weaken morale in the armed forces. Having worked for a company that at one time, was reducing staff, I know that such actions lead to a general feeling of “am I going to be here next week? Or am I the next on the chopping block?”

A country divided internally by strife; with a struggling economy and a weakened and demoralized military is a prime target for some power with a hatred of the US to consider an attack of some type. This may not be an actual physical occupation, it could take the form of an economic takeover of the United States instead. No fuss, no muss and the objective is still achieved.

I seriously hope I’m wrong, but from what I’ve seen, this appears to be very possible.

Cat.

Please explain your statement

Yesterday there was a murder on the Toronto subway. According to both news reports and interviews with the investigating officer, a man deliberately pushed another individual in front of an oncoming subway train. Based upon video evidence provided by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and statements from witnesses, the police have charged this man with first degree murder, but the investigation is still active.

As is usual in cases such as this, the media has interviewed people who were either on the platform at the time, or were affected by the closure of the station. Naturally people were upset with having to use shuttle buses, or walk a block to the nearest open station, but their upset usually subsided when they learned the reason for the closure. One man however, had a different view. His comment was “it’s the TTC’s fault.”

Pardon me. Would you kindly explain how you figure it is the TTC’s fault that one person deliberately killing another on TTC property is the fault of the transit service? I readily admit that there are times I’m not a fan of the service provided, but generally I find the service to be efficient. And what was the TTC’s fault? Was it that they let a person onto the system who may have been angry at the world? Or that they had to close the Bloor/Yonge station for the police investigation, which caused you some inconvenience? Granted yesterday was hot (92F, feeling like 109F [33C and 43C]) but a one block walk to an open station wouldn’t have been too uncomfortable.

City Hall has conducted a study on the feasibility of installing barriers such as Tokyo uses to prevent passengers from falling/jumping/being pushed in front of trains. The cost of upgrading stations and installing these barriers is currently estimated at over a billion dollars. Would our man who blames the TTC be willing to see a fare increase to help offset this cost? I doubt it.

Blaming the TTC for the actions of one individual, not an employee of the system, for something beyond the control of the TTC is childish. The ease with which he made that statement makes me suspect he is one of those people who constantly blames others for any inconvenience he encounters. About time he learned the world isn’t out to get him.

My sympathies to out to the family and friends of the man who died.

Cat.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I am really starting to be concerned about the future of the Province of Ontario for the next four years. On June 7, the citizens of Ontario will elect a new Premier (our version of a state governor).

The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is Doug Ford, brother of the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. When Doug was a city councillor during his brother’s term as mayor, he proved himself to be a bully toward other councillors and had some very different views. Among his pronouncements was an idea to close libraries to save money. Apparently Doug had never read a book and could see no reason why anybody should. Another instance that springs to mind was his opposition to a proposal to put a home for autistic children and young adults in his neighbourhood. His objections to this proposal were that it would lower property values in the area and that these people would be allowed outside.

Doug Ford has said he admires Donald Trump and some of his ideas and comments during this election campaign so far seem to show he’s taken a page from the Trump campaign playbook. (In comments on Facebook, I’ve referred to him as “Trump North”.) Like Trump, Doug likes to portray himself as “a man of the people”, but he counts his wealth in the millions. He claims he can save the province billions by finding “efficiencies”. No plan, no exact amounts disclosed, just “efficiencies. Sound familiar to my American readers? Figures pulled out of thin air, proposals to reduce business taxes, all the while not revealing how exactly he’s going to save this money that won’t involve raising taxes and cutting people. During a leadership debate yesterday, in response to a question on hiring immigrants to work in northern Ontario, Doug said “We should take care of our own first.” I think I heard all this stuff sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign in the US. According to the polls, Doug Ford and the PC party are leading by about a 14 point margin, so obviously there are people who like what he has to say. Oh yes – one more thing. It is tradition that the party leaders also provide a press bus. Doug isn’t doing so which is one way of controlling what the media reports on his campaign.

There is one thing that gives me hope he won’t be able to run unfettered over Ontario. In Canada, both federally and provincially, the leader of the party must win a seat in the legislature. Doug is running in a riding (electoral district for my American readers) that includes the city ward the Ford family considers a fiefdom and is the headquarters of “Ford Nation”, so it seems unlikely he will lose. But, in the Canadian political system, both federally and provincially, there are three major parties, In Ontario those parties are the Progressive Conservatives, led by Doug Ford; the Liberal Party of Ontario, led by Kathleen Wynne, the current Premier, and the New Democratic Party led by Andrea Horwath. This is what gives me hope. With three major parties and only a fourteen point lead, it appears to me that if Doug does become the next Premier of Ontario, he will have a minority government. Having the most seats will make him Premier, but not having a clear majority of those seats means he’ll have to offer some concessions to the other two parties to get legislation passed.

Personally, I have no idea at the moment how I’m going to vote. As I wrote, Doug Ford scares me. While Andrea Horwath and the NDP are saying some interesting things, the last time the NDP formed the provincial government during the ‘90’s, they almost destroyed the province. Auntie Kathleen and Liberals are also saying nice things, but they also have had some problems during their reign. Further complicating my decision is that the MPP for my riding, a Liberal, was of great help to me when I had some problems with my documents a couple of years ago. So, do I vote for the local representative who helped me as a form of reward for his help, knowing the spotty record of his party, the NDP who did so much damage in the past, or take a chance Doug won’t turn out to be a Trump clone?

I have about three weeks to decide, so I’ll be paying close attention to both the provincial and local campaigns.

I don’t care if you vote PC, NDP, Liberal, Green or some other party. But, on June 7, you must vote.

Cat.