Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In September I Will Do Better

It’s September all of a sudden, but I’m much too busy for my usual where-did-the-summer-go/where-did-the-year-go/where-did-the-decade-go shtick.


My life, as per usual, is much busier than it is productive, and I’m a little sad to see another summer gone without having made as much progress with my projects as I’d like. I suspect I’m being a little too hard on myself – I am, after all, a grown-up-ish person with a job and a family, and the summer is not one big Calvin & Hobbes-esque lazy Sunday for me anymore.


Still and all, I have twinges of disappointment. Other the other hand,  I have kids going to school in a few days, and I remember going to school myself, and so for me, like for a lot of other people, September is the Other New Year, a beginning, an opportunity to reflect, take stock and set goals.


Progress on The Novel is… slow. But slow is better than non-existent, and I hope to bear down for another real push this month. It’ll help that my writers group will be starting up again in the fall; I think a deadline or two will help motivate me.


There’s actually a lot happening on the comics front, although most of it still isn’t quite ready for a big public announcement. I finished the script for the final chapter of the first book of Cold Iron Badge, and Patrick is already working away on it with his mad skillz.


I haven’t been getting to the gym as much as I wanted, and I definitely haven’t been eating as virtuously as I should. The food thing just requires willpower, and although pie is my Kryptonite, I’m feeling stronger and more optimistic as the Other New Year begins. The gym… well, like I said, the kids are starting school, and without going all blah-blah true confessions on you, I can say that this will lead to some complications with attendant scheduling hiccups that will need to be overcome. The gym may get caught in the crossfire. If it does... hmm, I dunno, I might just have to climb the stairs in our building a couple of times every night for a while. One thing I’m certain of is that I really need to get serious, now, about making a change for the better.


Because it’s time. It’s the Other New Year. We’re heading into my favourite season. It’s a time for optimism that leads to action, for getting things done and doing them well. For being healthier, more productive and happier.


It’s September, and I’m going to do better.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Continuity Conundrum

I’m used by now to things not going exactly as planned, but the past couple of months have been both frustrating and disappointing, regardless. I really lost the thread of both exercising and writing. Time management has been an even bigger challenge than usual, and the fact that it’s turned into a nasty-humid, vicious-hot summer so far hasn’t helped.

It hasn’t been entirely unproductive. I’ve been working with my good friend N.W. on a Secret Project. This time I’m not just being goofily coy; this is something I need to keep under my hat for the time being*. Partly because right now, there is no news, and it’s possible nothing may come of it – whether or not it goes ahead is up to a third party. But if we get that “yea”, it will be very exciting, and represent a major step forward for both me and N.W. I’ll give real details when I can.

That being said, I have yet to make real headway on the novel. The first draft is on the go, but still not much more than 25% done. I’m hoping to break my logjam and move forward over the rest of the summer; I finally got back to it today and managed to add about 500 words. That represents less than an hour of work, so if I can swing devoting more time than just my lunch hour to the project, I might actually start getting somewhere.

However, time management isn’t the only issue that’s been keeping me from working on the Novel. The other big point goes to the heretofore cryptic title of this post.

I haven’t really made a secret of this, but I also haven’t come right out and said it: The Novel started off as the prose feature that I developed to add more content to the site for Cold Iron Badge, the webcomic I do with co-creator/artist extraordinaire Patrick Heinicke. (You can read it at As such, it was set it the same world as the webcomic, but was a side-story with different characters. So far, so not-a-problem, right?

Originally, I thought that what is now the Novel would be a series of short stories. I thought they’d take place in the same city as Cold Iron Badge the webcomic (which I was being deliberately vague about anyway), and that the casts of the two stories would occasionally cross over, much as they do in the Law & Order spinoffs that were such an inspiration to me in creating Cold Iron Badge. That means that, among other things, they could share a villain.

In the course of writing, all of that changed. The hypothetical series of short stories became the Novel when I realized that I was telling a bigger story than I originally thought. The Novel now explicitly takes place in Toronto, while the webcomic is clearly set in Vancouver. So the characters in each will doubtless be aware of one another – they belong to the same organization – but they won’t cross paths as often as I thought at first. And the villain…

The webcomic has a Big Bad, a scary elf crime boss/sorcerer/swordsman named Nobody. I planned to use him as a menacing background figure in the short stories. But although I imagined that he’d frequently be the cause of problems that the characters in the prose stories had to deal with, I didn’t expect that he’d appear directly – or that there’d be an overarching Big Bad for the only loosely-related stories at all.

Then I realized that the Novel wasn’t the short stories, but the Novel. And I knew it would need a Big Bad. At first, I figured Nobody would still do the trick. He’s involved in a lot of villainous stuff and there’s no reason his plots couldn’t encompass both Vancouver and Toronto. And he’s a great character. But then, I started thinking about resolutions.

Specifically, and I apologize if this is way too obvious: If stories contain heroes and villains, as both the Novel and the Cold Iron Badge webcomic do, then there needs to be some sort of resolution around the conflict between them**. Equally importantly, the heroes and the villains need to be active, credible participants in the resolution***. We can’t have somebody else in a parallel story taking place offstage bust the villain when the heroes’ backs are turned. That’s called a deus ex machina, and it’s Very Bad Writing. So I can’t use the same villain in otherwise separate stories with separate characters and separate resolutions.

Not really an issue though, right? Nothing that can’t be solved with a little judicious rewriting. I already know who the new Big Bad for the novel is, and she, he or it**** is a doozy. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m still serializing the story that has become the Novel on the Cold Iron Badge website.

It is, as noted above, about 25% done and people have, I presume and hope, been reading it. And that material includes Nobody mentioned as the Big Bad, explicitly. I can easily make a course correction, but I’ll be pulling aside the curtain and doing it overtly and explicitly for the readers. And I don’t want to go back and rewrite the material that’s already been posted; that’s the path of endless noodling madness where I get obsessed with fixing a story that isn’t even written yet and therefore, never finish it. So do I just abruptly change the story I’m writing with an awkward retroactive change to the continuity (what we geeks call a ret-con), and act as though the new Big Bad was the Big Bad all along? I can’t incorporate the changeover into the story as a plot point; eventually, the original villain is going to be rewritten out of ever having been there. I’d have to just abruptly switch villain-gears.

Figuring out what to do about this has been taking up a lot of the brainspace that should have been devoted to the actual writing, and it has to stop. I’ve finally decided on “awkward ret-con”, which will be… well, awkward. And embarrassing, because I hate showing my work. But them’s the breaks, I guess. I suppose I should have known going in that issues like this were potentially a part and parcel of writing a serialized longform story. But it’s frustrating! I don’t know how guys like Dickens managed it without losing their minds. Did he never think to himself part-way through, “Screw Oliver Twist. This is now a story about a cat who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes and fights crime!”*****

So, ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts; we’ve got a painfully obvious ret-con ahead and there’s going to be some bumpy reading. We apologize for any inconvenience.




* Hmm. What kind of story could have a character named ‘The Time Being’? Because now I really want to do that…

** Unless the lack of resolution is an important part of the story, of course.

*** Yeah yeah yeah, unless that’s an important part of the story.

**** That’s me being cagey. As cagey as I get, anyway.

***** ‘Laser Cat Versus The Time Being’. I’m not sure I want to write that story, but I do want to live in a world where that story exists.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Bee What Now?

BHAG is one of those terms you pick up if you attend enough organizational or corporate strategic planning / missioning / visioning / consultants-using-buzzwords-to-justify-their-exorbitant-fees-ing kind of events – can you tell I’ve been to a few? It’s pronounced “Bee Hag” and it stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

It’s what it sounds like, basically: A clear, exciting and ambitious goal that motivates and inspires action.

As you can tell, I have my qualms about strategic planning / missioning / visioning / buzzwording – I’ve been part of good ones that inspired me and made me feel like part of a cohesive team, and I’ve part of bad, contentious ones that literally gave me nightmares – but I like the idea of the BHAG. Also, I’m a sucker for acronyms.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I am setting myself a BHAG.  

It’s Big, it’s Audacious, it’s certainly a Goal, and I expect things could get a bit Hairy.

As some of you know, I have this novel I’ve been working on – I’ve been serializing it more-or-less weekly at Cold Iron Badge as the ongoing prose story “All That Glitters”. It’s set in the same world as the comic, but is about different characters, and takes place in (explicitly) Toronto instead of (implicitly) Vancouver. Having a weekly deadline to meet has been great for my productivity, no doubt about it. But it also means that I’ve been writing on the fly a lot, following my characters around and watching them snark at one another. Which is, to be clear, something I enjoy greatly. But I’m at the stage where the central ideas of the story are becoming more clear, and where I need to take a step back and actually decide what I’m doing.

So, I’ve put the weekly installments on hiatus (replaced with another prose feature that may be even thrilling-er, but is easier and faster to write). And I’ve given myself a BHAG: To actually write this damn novel. In the month of May.

It’s a big goal because it involves a high volume of writing – all the material I’ve written to date for ‘All That Glitters’ amounts to about 15,000 words, and a novel needs to be 75- to 90,000. It’s audacious because, really, that’s a lot of writing to try to cram into a month on my schedule. It’s hairy because this is not the best time for me to be setting myself a big audacious goal; I haven’t been well over the past couple of weeks, and it’s not like I had a surplus of free time even before that.  

There are a lot of reasons this might not work, and I’m not necessarily anticipating success in my BHAGery. That is, I don’t know that I’ll be typing “The End” at 11:55 pm on May 31st. But the point of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal isn’t necessarily to achieve it, at least not in the short term. It’s to inspire and spur action. I’ve made good progress – really good, for me – taking the slow and steady approach with this project. But it’s time to try something different. It’s time to try fast and steady. The worst possible outcome is that I’ll be ahead of where I am now, so I have nothing to lose and rather a lot to gain.

Also, I have decided that there has to be a character in Cold Iron Badge called the Bee Hag. Has to be.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Mind Is Like A Herd Of Cats

Choosing and prioritizing what I write has always posed a challenge for me, because I have (you’ve heard this one many times before, so say it with me) limited time to write, and often have multiple projects on the go.

But I’d recently seen some progress on that front. I’ve back-burned one of the novels I’ve been working on, and decided to make the other my priority. There’ll be some writing coming up for Cold Iron Badge, but it’s still a ways off. And I have some worldbuilding and background information that I want to develop and add to the Cold Iron Badge website, but that’ll be short and to the point. It’s not like it’s another novel to juggle.

I was actually down to one major, current project.

Then, of course, I had to keep thinking.

Stooping To Conquer

I had an idea for a short story that was nag-nag-nagging at my brain, demanding attention. I’ve read that this is the case with a lot of writers; many of us are epic procrastinators, and if we can’t find an excuse to not write, we can at least manage to obsess about writing something other than our current projects.

Finally, I realized that the best way to exorcise the thing was to stop fighting, give in and actually write it, since it is, by definition, short. It’s underway and I expect to be finished… well, shortly. And then I won’t have to think about it anymore, especially since I’m going to hand it off to the writers group and wait on revisions ‘til after I hear back from them.

Problem solved?

No, Problem Not Solved

Some little while ago, what with one thing and another, I was inspired to post this on Twitter:

Fools! Tremble before the might of Doctor Biohazard's Gyroscopic Transuranic Fully Automatic Piranha Cannon!

And now I want to write a %*#&ing steampunk novel…

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did I Really Used To Update This Thing Weekly?

Where the hell did I find the time?

Zzz + Owie = Zowie!

I'm tired and sore today.

Sore because I worked out on Monday night -- but not at the gym. Due to various adventures in scheduling, I had to pick my son up from daycare. So, I worked out after the kids were in bed; I climbed the stairs in the building, from the ground floor to the top. Twice. My legs are still sore, which, oddly, never happens to this extent when I use the stair climber at the gym. I can't quite figure out if that means I did something wrong, or something right. Oh, and I'm helping my sister-in-law move a 100-pound cat toy tonight, so wish me luck.

I'm tired because I spent Tuesday night at a creative meeting for a new project that a friend is getting off the ground. The details, I should probably keep under my hat for now, but it's a cool project involving lots of interesting, talented people and it promises to be a lot of fun. And, you know, given the opportunity to stay out later than I should talking shop with other writers...

So yes. Tired and sore, but both for good reason. 

Could I Have The Gain Without Pain? Please?

The Cold Iron Badge website was hacked last week -- just as we launched an advertising campaign, no less, although I don't know if that was coincidence or connection.

Our comic was replaced by a creepy, ghostly image of a guy who needs a shave, and text in English and what I think was Arabic crowing about how pathetic the security on our site was.

Um, yeah, dude, we're a rinky-dink little webcomic that runs on a blogging platform. Hacking into our site isn't exactly on par with convincing the launch system at the Pentagon that it's playing a game of chess with Professor Falken. But, you know, if it makes you feel good about yourself...

Actually, since the simplest solution was to have our web host wipe the site clean and start over, Patrick took the opportunity to do a redesign, and I must say, it really is new-and-improved and better-than-ever. There's another recent example of pain leading to gain (the pain in this case being Patrick's, as he did all the work). So thanks, creepy smug hacker guy!*

The disruption only lasted a couple of days, and doesn't seem to have cost us any readers, but we'd still appreciate your kind attention -- so if you haven't read Cold Iron Badge yet, or you need to get caught up, this would be a perfect time. Check us out at

Ideas: Threat Or Menace?

I'm still having a hard time narrowing my focus down to one non-comics project, but I think that's coming. I've got a couple of short pieces that have been rattling around in my head, and it looks like the only way to make them stop will be to actually write the damn things. And I'd like to get ahead with 'All That Glitters' again, so that I have a few installments in the can and I'm not spending all my writing time chasing a self-imposed deadline. Not that it isn't good motivation, but I'd like to start playing a somewhat longer game, and actually get one of my Big Projects finished. Is that too ambitious? Yeah, probably, but time, and I, will tell.

Oh, and I’m experimenting with posting to the blog via email, and the last time I tried that, the formatting got really wonky. My apologies if it looks like I’ve inexplicably made the decision to add several dozen unnecessary line breaks to this update. Try to think of it as part of the adventure.  


*But please don't come back. We still hate you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Stories, So Far

It's been weeks since I've seen a "the year we make contact" joke. At the gym, the resolutionaries seem to be drifting away. The only New Year anyone is talking about is the Chinese one. 2010 is well and truly underway.


So it's not a bad time to take stock and evaluate the year to date.


Well, it’s been a busy year so far, but also one that’s off to better start than most of the past few years.


Things are going well at work, where the second anniversary of my hiring just went by. My family’s doing well; my children are learning and growing and thriving and doing more wonderful things than ever. I’ve been getting back to the gym, working on getting into shape again, and so far I’ve been able to stick with it.  


And on the writing front, although I haven’t been as productive as I’d like, I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in previous years. I’m active in and enjoying my writers group, Cold Iron Badge is ongoing and I have several other projects on the go.


But they aren’t the projects that I would have expected to be working on, this time last year – or even a few months ago. I’ve recently changed the focus of my writing – or, perhaps, changed my goals to reflect the reality of my writing. This was the result of a good deal of soul-searching.


An existential crisis


Hmm. That sounds more Dostoevyskian than the situation actually warrants.


Regardless, I spent a lot of time -- over late last year, through resolution season -- thinking about how I want to move forward with my writing. About what I want to achieve, and how I want to achieve it.


I love comics, I love Cold Iron Badge and Xeno's Arrow, and they’re going to continue to be central to my writing.


But I don't see myself -- right now, with my interests, at this point in my life -- springboarding from those projects to other work in comics. (This is, of course, with all the usual caveats; if an interesting opportunity arises, I am certainly open to it).


Really, it's not like Marvel and DC were in a bidding war for my talents. This realization doesn't actually involve any changes to my approach.


No, the real shift has been on the other side of my writing: Screenplays.


I never had much traction as a screenwriter. I haven't had an agent in some time (which is a sordid and funny story that I probably shouldn't relate online) and never really had much success in professionalizing myself in the field.


My writing also doesn't really fit the needs of the Canadian market. The spec market for screenplays barely exists in Canada, and I like to write in classic, core genres that involve explosions and happy endings. I don't fit in with the art-housey, outsider-stancey attitude of Canadian feature film.


Grants? You can't get in the grant game here without credits, and you can't get credits writing the sort of movies I like to write.


And I've seen friends scramble and scrape, trying to make independent films here in the genres I do care about. But it takes years, and nobody gets paid, and the odds of getting your movie made, let alone finding distribution or achieving any kind of recognition, make roulette look like a sound investment strategy.


I'm pushing forty, and I have a family that needs me. I can't pick up stakes and move to LA on the chance of hitting in big. Hell, I don't even drive -- that alone means that I couldn’t cope with life in Los Angeles.


I could try writing for TV, because there is, at least for now, an English-language Canadian TV industry, and it's actually really good. Canadian TV is better than it's ever been, mirroring the new golden age of TV in the U.S..


But... I have no passion to write television, even in a golden age. To be honest, the thought of re-focusing on breaking in as a TV writer -- making contacts, writing a sample script for a hot show, trying to get a gig -- gives me the creeping horrors. I don't have the time or patience for it any more.


Screenwriting allowed me to learn a tremendous amount of craft and build my skills, and to meet some great people. But I've followed that path as far as I can. It's time to admit that it's not leading where I want to go.


So where does that leave me?


Insert your own pun based on the two meanings of "novel"


Yes. I'm writing a novel. I appear, a bit unexpectedly, to be writing several novels.


How did this happen?


Over the past year or so, I've been overcoming my fear of writing prose, which wasn't the only reason I was focused on scripts, but certainly played a part.


At the suggestion of my dear friend and former writing partner Nicole, I'm working on adapting a screenplay into a novel. It's an interesting process, and a reversal of the usual one; novels are often adapted for the screen, but it’s tricky to do well because they tend to be so dense; you have to leave a great deal of the complexity out, and sometimes that complexity is what makes the story work.


What I’m doing now is a different challenge; I'm embroidering, trying to turn a 100-page (with lots of white space on the pages) story into a much denser, more involved narrative. Essentially, I'm treating my screenplay as a fairly detailed outline for the novel, and adding to it. I've only just begun. If the process is interesting, I may discuss it further.


Plus, as some of you already know, I've been writing and posting a weekly prose story at the Cold Iron Badge website. It's not about the narrative or the characters featured in the comic. I thought that a side-story about two other members of the Borderland Guard would be interesting, fun and could also include some world-building details that I couldn't fit into the main feature. My first attempt was a short story; my second, which I'm still working on, is called All That Glitters, and it seems to be turning into something rather longer. It might indeed be a novel when it's done. I guess I'll have to see where the journey takes me. In the mean time, I'm having a lot of fun with the narrator and her adventures.


And I have another project on my mind. It's been on the back-burner, but the chunk of it that I've actually had written and sitting around for a while was sufficiently well-received that I'm really tempted to move it up the To-Do list.


The problem with being so rich in projects is that I have a limited amount of time to write and I really don’t like constantly switching gears, trying to get from the narrative, tone and character voices of one story to another. So I’m trying to prioritize, to set goals and stick to them.


And then there’s the question of professionalizing myself as a novelist, as I was never quite able to do with screenwriting. Finding an agent. Getting manuscripts out to publishers. Eventually, of course, the goal, the hope and dream: Selling a novel.


All of that is another part of the process, and it’s something I intend to chronicle here. After my year-long time away from blogging, I hope to begin posting here more regularly. We’ll see how that plan goes (see “limited amount of time to write”, above). We’ll see how all my plans go.


For now, though, and on balance, I’m off to a decent start.


So far, it’s a good year.