Tallboys’ Big Smoke Fest 2014: HIGHS and Cai.ro

On Friday January 24th 2014, I had the pleasure of attending Tallboys’ Big Smoke Festival at Toronto’s Garrison, an event where one gets to sample various beers and listen to some live music. Sounds like a wicked good time, hence why I jumped on the occasion for a night out. Plus, Cai.ro played that night, and if you’ve been reading my blog since March last year, you’ll remember how I got hooked to their music instantly.

The event was constructed in the following manner:

  • Beer tasting in the front room starting at 5pm.
  • Beer tasting ends at 9pm when the music starts.
  • Live music in another room (stage area) as of 9pm. Beer samples can be brought over. Concert runs until 1am.

There were some very positive sides to the event, as well as some more negative ones.

Positives:

  • By seperating the times for the beer tasting and the live music, people didn’t have to divide their attention or pick and choose what they wanted to do. The event was well planned to experience both without conflict.
  • Planning the beer tasting before the live music forces your audience to show up for all of the performances, which gives the opening acts a worthwhile audience of new people instead of playing for their friends. This is a big bonus to new and upcoming bands.
  • Many of the beers at the tasting were sold at the bar, thus allowing people to buy the beers they tried and enjoyed. Hopefully, this also helped with sales made at the Garrison.

Negatives:

  • The beer tasting room was TOO SMALL. When I say too small, I don’t mean uncomfortable for anyone who gets claustrophobic in crowds, but so small that you couldn’t even nagivate your way through the crowd to get to some beer stands. The entire room was a cluster of imovable bodies. Even if you wanted to be polite and let someone pass, you couldn’t, because you yourself were stuck in place. As a result, I didn’t even get to see all of the different types of beers being offered on one side of the room. I physically couldn’t get there.
  • Some of those who were interested in the beers and not in the music spent a lot of the live performance time chatting loudly. It was unfortunately distracting for those who wanted to listen to the music, as well as potentially for the performers on stage. It’s difficult enough playing in front of a crowd, but even more so in front of a crowd that doesn’t even seem to care.
  • With everyone having sampled many beers before the show, the music started with already many people in the crowd intoxicated or nearing that point. Thus, the ratio of very drunk audience members escalated faster than most concerts, which also means the ratio of stupid/angry/disrespectful drunks. Luckily, the crowd at the Garrison was fairly respectful. I can only imagine how much worse it could be at other venues. So thank you to many of those who there that night! Your drunken state could have ruined things, but it didn’t. You were lovely people!

Would I recommend this event to others? DEFINITELY! I had a very good time. However, don’t invite friends of yours who have no concert stamina. I’m talking about those who can’t do more than 2 acts in a night. Be ready to stay through 4-5, because you want to get to the main act, which was Cai.ro that night (a band well worth it).

For anyone else who may be a fan of Cai.ro and reading this, I have good news to announce! As of February 9th, they were in British-Columbia for approximately ten days recording their first full length album with one of the producers of Half Moon Run‘s last cd Dark Eyes, Nygel Asselin. Cai.ro will be dropping the new album in the summer, so keep your eyes, and most importantly your ears, open for that upcoming musical gem.

Finally, there was one more thing I wanted to touch on in this post, and that is the discovery of a new Toronto based band: HIGHS.

HIGHS are an indie-new-wave-pop quartet that have accomplished a lot since their creation in 2013. In just one year, they have managed to harness their skills to find their place in indie-pop, create a richly layered sound with harmonizing vocals and multiple percussions, gather a good fanbase, as well as record and release an EP.

The quartet is made up of Doug Haynes (rhythm guitar and vocals), Karrie Douglas (keys and vocals), Kevin Ledlow (drums), and Joel Harrower (lead guitar and back vocals). HIGHS have multiple layers to their music without ever sounding overly complicated. In fact, when you listen to their EP, you wouldn’t think it took so many people and instruments to create the sound they make. It’s only when you see them live that you understand the multiple layers of their music. There isn’t a single moment where someone is twiddling their thumbs on stage.

With so much happening, there are two aspects of their sound that stand out for me. The first is that there is no lead vocalist. Haynes and Douglas almost always sing together with Haynes taking the melody and Douglas harmonizing. The layering in the vocals adds a richness to the sound that helps to separate HIGHS from other indie-pop-new-wave bands. However, what stood out the most for me were the drums. Ledlow plays in a 4/4 time signature (most pop-rock music), but with something different from what we hear in almost every pop song. He is both original and unpredictable in his drumming while always maintaining a beat that the audience can follow. It’s easy for pop-rock drummers to fall in the typical snare kick drum and high hat pattern, but Ledlow chooses to take a route that is less safe, but far more interesting. I liked the band when they took the stage, but Ledlow’s drumming is what really did it for me.

They presently have a 5 track self-titled EP out that you can buy at a live show or online.

Self-titled album tracklist:

1) Summer Dress
2) Nomads
3) Harvest
4) Fleshy Bones
5) Cannibal Coast

As much as I enjoy this band, they still have a newness to their sound. With time, it will mature and clean up. After all, they have only been a unit for a year. Luckily, with such a strong foundation already under their feet, I can only imagine that they will improve with time, practice, and writing. I look forward to seeing where their musical careers will lead them. So check them out, because I am putting them on the list of independent bands to look out for in the very near future.

If you like bands such as The Boxer Rebellion, Anathallo, Gold & Youth, and Fevers, then HIGHS are for you.

Official site: http://www.highsmusic.com/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/highsmusic
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highsmusic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/highsmusic

When Life Gives You Lemons, Write A Book About Lemonade

Life can be tough sometimes.

This is no great revelation to anyone (and if it is, sorry to be the bearer of bad news). Sometimes things suck and you have no choice but to accept it and forge ahead towards a better day. Hopefully you have good coping mechanisms to help you deal with it all. Hopefully you have other positive things in life for you to focus on. Hopefully you’re not stuck in some black hole that’s sucking you down and it seems almost impossible to claw your way back up, that is until a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s and some episodes of Futurama come in to temporarily help you forget about your life.

Hey there planet, can you stop spinning for a minute? I’d like to get off now.

Of course, when life throws you unpleasantness, it’s normal to feel the hurt of it immediately after it happens. What’s important is that you get yourself out of it, how you do it, and how you plan on making the best out of a bad situation. As the saying goes: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

Robot With LemonsI’ll admit it, 2013 (and January 2014) has been a ROUGH year for me (and many people I know).

  • My office made a huge shift that caused heightened amounts of stress and sleep deprevation for everyone in my department for at least three months.
  • My love life was frustrating, then hopeless, then awesome, then broken.
  • I went through a diabetes scare and spent several months changing my eating habits to try and reverse the high sugar levels in my blood stream (I avoided that wrecking ball completely and am now healthy).
  • Another health scare that luckily worked out in the end.
  • A friend of mine passed away without warning. May you rest in peace Roger. You are not easily forgotten.
Broken heart

It’s been rough on both of us! At least we have each other.

These are, of course, just the main headlines. Many other things happened to me and the people around me, but for the most part (except for one lovely soul), we got out of it intact… but with a few scars from our battle wounds.

So, when life gives you that many lemons, you have no choice but to make lemonade… or be burried by all the lemons. The question I’d like to ask is “how do you deal with all your lemons?” Mine involves writing. I write and write and write until there are no more words left for me to say. It’s my coping mechanism and has been for 13 years (remember those chaos books I previously spoke about?). It has helped me survive for this long and given me a safe place to communicate in my own way what I need to put out there. Also, it gives me more closure than talking to people about my problems.

Let me explain.

I do talk to my friends and family and they are a tremendous help, but writing is what finally allows me to let go of something. I’ve always felt that verbal language lacks permanency, that as soon as the words float out of my mouth they are swept away by metaphorical winds and then dissipate into a state of inexistence. Granted, this isn’t entirely true since the information shared can’t be taken back, but it still isn’t permanent to me. However, when I write it down with ink on white paper, all of those thoughts and feelings that run through my mind become permanent. They can not be erased, or dissipate into nothingness, or be forgotten. They are recorded. Once that permanent state has been reached, I feel like I can let go, because if I ever want to go back to remember how I felt or reacted towards something, it’s there. Even if I forget, one day I’ll read it and everything will come back to me. That recorded permanency is my form of therapy.

Writing a book

Now, writing my most personal and intimate thoughts down for myself might be a coping mechanism, but it isn’t lemonade. You offer lemonade to guests when they come and visit. You sell it from a cardboard stand in your neighbourhood at a dime a red solo cup. You offer a glass without any sugar to someone who played a prank on you and you have to get them back (adding a bit of wasabi also helps too). Basically, lemonade can be shared. My black books of chaos are not for sharing. By the end of the process, you want to be able to say “thanks for all the lemons, life, because BAM! check out what I did that’s awesome!”

That’s right, I’m getting to that point in the post where I’ll try to wrap everything neatly so it makes sense with the title (if I ever manage to do that).

My lemonade is my creative writing. Every experience in my life is something that I can use in either a book or a song that I write. I won’t write word-for-event until it’s almost autobiographical, but I will adapt my life experiences to understand my characters and give more credibility and depth to my writing.
My recent relationship ended? Hey, don’t I have a break up scene in a story? Yeah! Let me use all of the feelings to add emotional impact in my scene.
Someone I know has seriously upset me? Wait, there’s this scene where my character is really pissed at someone. Let’s use it!
I got attacked with racist comments on the streetcar? Well that really sucks, but hey, my faith in humanity was restored after by the kindness of strangers, so let’s put a pin in that one and remember the good feelings.
Ect.

So remember folks, life can really suck at times! It’s inevitable. It’s important to have a good support group around when sh*t hits the fan, but the two most important things are:

  1. How are you going to work through the suckiness and deal with it?
  2. How will you make your lemonade?

Seriously, how do you make your lemonade? I want to know! Everyone’s different, and that’s what’s awesome!

Teddy Bear

No caption required.

The Black Book of Chaos: From the Last to the First Page

If there was a fire in your house/apartment/condo/room/cardboard box/lighthouse and you could only save one non-living item from the flames, what would it be? My answer has been the same for years and will remain so: my black book of chaos, or at least, I should make that plural. But they all weave from one to the next, so I am going to cheat and say that they combine into a single object.

Pretty much anyone who has met me has seen me with one of these. I carry my chaos/book everywhere and feel lost when the white pages sandwiched between the rough black covers aren’t within a close proximity to me for more than a few hours. They are a tangible extension of who I am, and they are only meant for me.

Since 2001 (wow, that’s 13 years now), I have been writing, drawing, painting, and scribbling almost every thought, emotion, creative idea, or significant event that has happened to me in these notebooks. They initially started in spiral notebooks, but I upgraded to the black hardcover sketchbooks in 2006 when I also upgraded to university and met some artsy people who had these black books attached to their hips, just as my spiral notebooks were attached to me. And so, it was then in my first year of university, that I dubbed these items my Black Books of Chaos (unfortunately, I can’t give them to acronym of BBC since that one is already in use by some television people who are kind of a big deal). They continue to be an integral part of my life and sanity to this very day… and possibly well into the future. The word chaos is in the name because, well, they are quite chaotic in the sense that it would probably be really hard for anyone other than me to understand what’s going on inside.

Recently, something equally exciting and sad happened with my book of chaos, something that happens once every year or two: I used the last page. There is nowhere left for me to write. There are no more blank pages. The book is saturated with the essence that is me and the period of my life it holds. There is only one thing left to do: get a new one and fill it with everything that is new.

Robot is preparing to jump from the old frayed book to the new one.

Robot is preparing to jump from the old frayed book to the new one. Meanwhile, one of Totoro’s friends with a bag of seeds is chilling out.

There is that awkward period of time where I’ll be using both books at once, because there are some creative ideas in the old one that I’ll need to reference for the new one (such as characters, incomplete scenes/songs, or small nugget ideas that still need time to blossom).

It’s very exciting, because it feels like I’m starting a new chapter in my life. Who knows what will happen in the near future and what kind of adventures I will have, or what will inspire me, or what I will be inspired to do. The book is a blank canvas for me to do with as I please (and a blank book is a lot more blank than a blank page). It’s like starting anew all over again: a fresh start. Breathe in that new book smell, because it won’t last forever!

However, there is a certain sadness that comes with this transition as well: everything in the previous book will no longer follow me like a loyal companion. Carrying a book filled with pages of what is you in its purest form is comforting. No matter how tough things can get or how lost I might feel, I could either flip to something that made me feel better (or even remind me of who I am), or fill a page with whatever needs to come out so I can keep my sanity. Sometimes it can be emotional, sometimes it’s creative, like a song or a scene/character for my many writing projects. Either way, the reference that I have been building for however long in that specific black book of chaos will no longer follow me, but be stored on my bookshelf, only to be taken out when I need to find an idea or I want to reminisce.

This specific one is especially sentimental and hard to let go. During this one’s life, I also filled three separate spiral notebooks on the side, so this black book of chaos has been with me since January 2008. That’s six years! It contains six years of me. So much has happened to me since its first page, and I have grown so accustomed to it that it feels odd letting it go. I have:

  1. Graduated from university
  2. Loved and lost
  3. Faced some scary personal demons
  4. Established my career
  5. Met some incredible people
  6. Came up with a small seed of an idea that blossomed into an ambitious book series
  7. Found my songwriting style
  8. Created Robot
  9. Become an adult
  10. Made an important friend (in the first few pages) and lost him (in the last few pages)
  11. Welcomed my niece into the world, whom I can’t even describe how much I love
  12. Learned more about myself than ever and who I want to be
  13. Lived so many other big and small things in between

So as I quite literally close the black hardcover chapter of that part of my life, I open myself up to a new one. Of course, I’ll still go back every now and then to the previous ones, but for now, who knows where my book of chaos and I will end up (and of course, now Robot too).

Why yes Robot, those are the first pictures I ever drew of you. The date? November 2nd 2012. I guess that's your birthday.

Why yes, Robot! Those are the first pictures I ever drew of you. The date? November 2nd 2012. I guess that’s your birthday. Back then, I thought you might talk, but once you jumped off the page, I realized that human language is too limiting for a heart as big as yours.

A Streetcar Named Rude: A Faith In Humanity Story

Hello everyone and happy belated 2014!  I know I haven’t been around much, mostly because life was a roller coaster in every aspect and it took me quite a bit of time to find some stability again. I could start off the new year with a resolve of being better at maintaining my blog (as compared to the last six months), or that I’m going to finish the first draft of my first book this year, but I’ve never been a believer in resolutions. If the second half of 2013 taught me anything it’s that life is unpredictable. As my good friend J. R. R. Tolkien so elloquently once wrote “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

So instead, I have decided to reintroduce myself to you with a recent adventure of mine instead of writing about, well writing. It’s just more personal.

On Saturday January 11th, I had the pleasure of visiting the wonderful Toronto establishment The Horseshoe Tavern to see three live music performances and dance the night away. The evening included local favourites The Honeyrunners, new discovery The BB Guns, and old-time legend Gino Washington. Let’s just say that good times were had by everyone in attendance.

The evening’s events ended around 1:30am and I was dead tired (I was up at 7am that day for a full work shift), so it was high time for me to head on home and lay my weary head to rest. Now I should prefice the following events with what happened to me a few weeks ago.

REWIND!

Back in December 2013, there was a huge ice storm that hit Toronto. It started on the 20th and continued well into Christmas. Serious problem! Luckily, I was leaving the city on the 21st to make my way back home to my family in Ottawa. I was sure that the ice storm’s impact on my life wouldn’t surpass a delayed flight. Boy was I wrong! On my way to work that morning, with my luggage in hand, I did a full wipe out on the ice. Let me specify that I’m not talking about a thin layer of ice, but that the streets and sidewalks were actual skating rinks. Those from Toronto know that this is not an exageration. It was a near frozen wasteland without electricity. Upon landing, I initially felt pain in my right leg, than embarassment, then relief that everyone else was still asleep at 7:15am on a Saturday. No witnesses. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again (walking that is, not falling). Since I was able to continue my trek to work without further issues, I thought that the worst thing I left with was a bit of a bruised ego. Unfortunately, for the following two weeks, my knee swelled up so much that I couldn’t bend it or lift my leg. It took a lot of ice and time (about three weeks) before I was able to walk like a homosapien again.

Lucky for Robot, it only took him a few minutes instead of a few weeks.

Lucky for Robot, it only took him a few minutes instead of a few weeks.

Fast-forward over to January 11th.

After dancing for three hours at The Horseshoe Tavern, my right knee was not doing so well. My left leg was exhausted from supporting most of my weight and my back was in pain. All in all, I was in a lot of discomfort and waddling like a handicapped penguin. As my friends, Noémi and Kim, and I said our goodbyes, the Queen streetcar had stopped and I was diagonally across from it at a very busy intersection. If I was going to make the last subway, I had to catch this streetcar, or be forced to spend over $20 on a cab ride home (because waiting for the Vomit Rocket, or Blue Line bus, is never an option in my books). So I launched myself across the street southbound, then westbound (still respecting traffic lights), and I just managed to jump on the streetcar. Out in the cold streets, my friends cheered for me, both so glad that I would make it home for the low price of a single TTC token.

On the streetcar, a man in his mid-twenties and his girlfriend were sitting at the very front. The following events took place.

Man: People are cheering for streetcars in Toronto now? What’s happening to this city?

Me: No, my friends are just really happy that I made it onto the streetcar.

Man: Why? It’s not a big deal or anything.

Me: I just have a sprained knee and I didn’t think I would make it, so again, they’re just glad that I made it, that’s all.

Man: You have a sprained knee? That’s nothing to complain about. I have a cane.

Man 2 (his friend sitting across): Show her your cane.

Man: (He takes out his cane) So you’re problems are nothing compared to mine.

Me: I wasn’t comparing. I just thought-

Man: Listen, I fought in the war. So whatever problems you think you have are stupid and don’t mean shit.

Me: I wasn’t saying-

Man: Shut up! What’s your fucking problem? I fought for this country, so you don’t get to tell off and speak to me like that.

At this point, I knew that it was impossible to reason with this guy. He had anger issues, was slightly drunk, and just wanted to pick a fight with someone he thought was weaker than him so he could feel better about himself. I did the only think I felt like I should do, walk away and not let him antagonize me any further. As I headed to the back of the streetcar, I heard the following:

Man: Yeah, that’s right, walk away! I totally overshadowed that bitch. She ain’t got nothing on me.

Girl/girlfriend: She has a serious problem.

Man: I know right. Like she was allowed to speak to me that way.

(Sorry stranger, but I don’t think I was being impolite.)

Girl/girlfriend: She’s Asian, that’s her fucking problem.

Faith in humanity shot.

At this point, I was far back enough that I couldn’t hear them speak anymore. I wish I could say that their sour attitude and racist comment didn’t phase me one bit, but I would be lying. It wasn’t my first experience dealing with racism (and unfortunately, it probably won’t be my last), but it had been a while, and it really sucks. The truth is, you never get used to it, it always cuts a person, but hopefully the victim has found their own way of dealing with such hate and letting go.

Three big city blocks later, I heard a fuss coming from the front. The streetcar stopped. No one was getting off, but the doors remained open and we weren’t moving. As I looked up, I saw that the couple at the front were arguing with about five or six other passengers on the streetcar. I couldn’t tell who said what, so I will put them all together under “strangers”. More than half of it was coming from one caucasian male in his late twenties.

Strangers: Get off the streetcar!

Man: You can’t tell us what to do!

Strangers: We’ve been listening to you and your girl say racist comments for the last couple of blocks and we’re tired of it. So get off!

Man: No! We can say whatever the hell we want. You’re just an immigrant like the rest of them.

Strangers: I am just as white as you are! I’m caucasian and I don’t think it’s okay.

Man: Whatever man! That’s just messed up.

Strangers: GET OFF!!!

Man: No fucking way! I fought in the war. I fought for this country. None of you can do shit to me.

Strangers: That doesn’t give you an excuse to be racist. It’s not okay and we don’t want to hear it anymore.

Man: (stands up, directs his question to the mentioned caucasian male stranger) You want to fight me? Is that it? I will take you down!

Stranger: No, I don’t want to fight you! I just want you to get off.

Man: You’re such a pussy! I could kick your ass.

Stranger: Fine! I didn’t want to fight you, but if that’s what it’s going to take for you to understand that you’re not acting like a decent human being I’ll fight you.

Man: All right, let’s go! We’ll fight outside.

Stranger: No! You can go outside, but I’m not getting off the streetcar just because you’re an asshole.

All six strangers: GET OFF!!!

Finally, the man and his girlfriend got off the streetcar. People cheered as they did and we were back on our merry way minus a heavy load of racism to carry. Faith in humanity restored!

A nice couple filled me in on what happened after I headed to the back of the streetcar. It turns out that the man and his girlfriend (mostly her), were saying that we shouldn’t allow immigrants in Canada and that people like me, “that Asian bitch“, should be deported back to our countries immediately. Talk about awful!

I didn’t know anyone on the streetcar that night, yet a group of them stood up for me when I couldn’t. Sure it wasn’t just about me; it was about every non-caucasian who lives in Canada. But I am a part of that pool, therefor, on behalf of every non-caucasian in North America who has to deal with being a visible minority, I would like to thank those people that night for standing up for us and making it clear that there is no excuse for being racist, whether you are drunk or fought in a war, there is no excuse. I’m sorry that the man got injured in a war and that he has to walk with a cane for his rehabilitation, or maybe even the rest of his life, but please don’t take your anger out on the undeserving. (Sorry if I sound insensitive. War is an awful thing and I think it’s impossible to come back from it unscathed (especially emotionally), but tossing your anger out onto the world doesn’t help anyone.)

I think we can all learn something from Robot.

I think we can all learn something from Robot.

As I continued my way back home, I realized how hard it must be for that couple to live in a city as multi-cultural and diverse as Toronto. You can’t take two steps outside of your door without bumping into someone who isn’t caucasian. They must be carrying so much hate in their hearts everyday wherever they go in this city. The truth is, I feel sorry for them, because feeling that much hate and negativity all of the time isn’t good for you and eats away at you. So the way I see it, I may have been the immediate victim that night, but they will be victims of their own closed-mindedness for the rest of their lives (or until they change). Maybe I’m completely wrong and I’m sure they don’t see it that way, but at least that thought is how I cope with racism so it doesn’t get to me.

Well, that’s about it folks! The story of how my faith in humanity was crushed and restored in one night. Thanks again to the folks riding down Queen street that night! “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

With A Little Help From My Friends

So…. it’s been a while… in fact, it’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything. I wish I could say that it’s because I’ve been incredibly inspired as of late and have been plugging away at my book with many many words added to the count, but sadly, it’s far more mundane than that. Essentially, my job took over my life and I had no time to myself. Oh, and I’m not exagerating when I’m saying that my job took over my life.

With all of the hours I put into work, Robot was quite neglected and often left alone at home. He's too small to open the door on his own. So he spent many days waiting for me to come back home to play with him.

With all of the hours I put into work, Robot was quite neglected and often left alone at home. He’s too small to open the door on his own. So he spent many days waiting for me to come back home to play with him. Poor little guy!

For a month, I was working 55-75 hours a week, sometimes with only 6 hours of turn around time to go home, sleep, wake up, shower, and get my butt back at my desk. I lived off of Subway sandwhiches and canned soup because I never had time to cook anything, much less even make it to the grocery store before closing time. My entire relationship with the outside world was on my phone via text messaging; one of my closest friends, Jonathan, saw me once because he came over to my place during a SICK DAY. That’s right, we hadn’t seen each other in so long that he came downtown to spend about 2 hours with me while I was recovering from a cold. Finally, even my dreams could not provide a form of escapism. I would dream nightly about work, including a few very stressful ones where if I didn’t press the correct sequence of buttons at specific times during a live tv show, a nuclear bomb somewhere in the world would explode, but I didn’t know where. It could have been in the middle of the Gobi desert, or beneath a school full of children in Irak. When your stress levels are so high that your body continues to pump adrenaline in your blood even while you’re sleeping, than something is very wrong!

Luckily, things last week have started to calm down and I’m feeling like myself again. I’d also like to thank the extended 4 day weekend I had that came at a much needed time. Go extended Thanksgiving weekend!

So, now that I’ve officially explained my prolonged absence, get ready for something a little different today, something that I rarely do, something that comes up only once in a blue moon… I’m about to get sentimental. That’s right folks! For a limited time only, I’m going to talk about feelings that aren’t related to anxieties. It’s time for me to tread on the other side, the one where I will talk about how thankful I am for what I have. Oh, and Thanksgiving just happened in Canada. Good timing or advanced planning?

I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a great job in my field. I have a loving family and an amazing niece. I have food in my belly. I have a roof over my head that not only gives me shelter, but comfort. All of these things are great and more than what many people in the world have, but what I want to talk about today is specifically about my friends, about the family that I choose, and who have in turn chosen me.

Making friends as an adult is surprisingly hard. When we were kids, it was as simple as walking up to someone and asking them one of two questions: “Do you want to play?” or “Do you want to be my friend?”. It was easy and you had the opportunity to answer truthfully on the spot without politics, doubts, or schedules in mind. It was either a yes or a no. But a few things happened when we grew up:

  1. Life got harder.
  2. People got meaner.
  3. Straight-forward honesty got scarcer.
  4. Responsibilities got bigger.
  5. Schedules got obstacl-ier.
  6. Our emotional guard got stronger.
  7. The world got scarier.

It’s unfortunate to say, but friendships as an adult are really difficult. A lot of effort has to be poured in to maintain them (unless you both work in the same place, you don’t see them on a daily basis at school anymore), and we are a lot less open to letting people in emotionally. On the bright side, if you can find strong friendships as an adult, they are more rewarding than when you were a kid, because they are (hopefully) less wishy-washy and more reliable. These are the kind of friends you can count on and who will stick around even when things get rough, the kind who have seen some truly ugly sides of you (and I don’t mean the first 5 minutes when you wake up in the morning), and accept and love you unconditionally. There’s no blood relation, no obligation, yet they’re still sticking around. They become your second family, especially when your real immediate family lives in another city.

I remember once reading an article in MacLean’s magazine about adult friendships. It stated that most people are lucky to have one true friend in their lives, because most relationships we build with people will inevitably fall or drift apart. In the article, one of the subjects spoke about his two best friends and how he would even take a bullet for them. Another subject indicated that he didn’t feel like he had anyone really close and that finding a platonic connection only gets harder as we get older.

I myself am fortunate to have many truly good friends in my life. In fact, I would even say that I have 8 of them. That’s 8 people with no blood relations who have helped me, shaped me, stood by me, been honest with me, held me, laughed with me, pushed me, caught me, and smiled with me… and I am lucky to still have these 8 people in my life today. Some I talk to every day, others maybe only once every few months. But it’s not the frequency of our communication that makes them the type of friends they are, it’s simply the trust and connection that we share.

Heart flowers 150dpi

Robot is growing both love and flowers at the same time.

Now, of course, this is more of a book blog than a personal blog, so let’s bring this back to basics. If it wasn’t for these 8 people, I don’t know if I would have the perseverance or the confidence to write a book. Yes, I would be writing regardless, but I probably wouldn’t have even imagined potentially publishing one day. These 8 souls continuously push me forward with their love and support. I am blessed to have them in my life.

Linger: Book Review

Back in the month of June, I read Maggie Stiefvater’s first book in The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy entitled Shiver. For those of you who don’t remember, it was met with a generally favourable review of 3 stars where I advised readers to tread with caution; the story wasn’t the strongest (cheesy angsty romance), but it was still well-written and appealing to a certain audience. The first book stands on its own and readers will be satisfied with its ending. However, I am a sucker for trilogies and love to see how each storyteller utilizes the option of three to tell one. So naturally, I got a copy of the second book and cracked it open.

 Title: Linger (The Wolves Of Mercy Falls #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young adult, romance
Published by: Scholastic Inc.
Edition: Hardcover, 360 pages
Language: English
Published: 2010
ISBN: 0545123283

the longing.
Once Grace and Sam have found each other, they know they must fight to stay together. For Sam, this means a reckoning with his werewolf past. For Grace, it means facing a future that is less and less certain.

the loss.
Into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, whose past is full of hurt and danger. He is wrestling with his own demons, embracing the life of a wolf while denying the ties of a human.

the linger.
For Grace, Sam, and Cole, life is a constant struggle between two forces–wolf and human–with love baring its two sides as well. It is harrowing and euphoric, freeing and entrapping, enticing and alarming. As their world falls apart, love is what lingers. But will it be enough.

Rating: 4 stars

Robot 4 star heel clicking 300dpi

Consensus: Still filled with teen romance angst, Stiefvater traded in her slices of cheese for deeper teen issues, utilizing the realm of werewolves as a metaphor for real problems.

STORY
In my opinion, Linger is more a supernatural drama than it is romance. Yes, romantic love is still central to the story, but the tone and presence of various new themes makes it more serious and less cheesy. In fact, the added story of Cole and Isabel gives us a break from all of the lovey-dovey relationship stuff of Sam and Grace, balancing the book out nicely.

Most readers may be deterred from the book’s slower pacing and lack of action; the pages are filled with dialogue, memories, and emotions. Many may argue that the book doesn’t even have a plot until the end, but I would disagree with them. The plot is based on small moments and the need for the characters to connect somehow with others (not necessarily the way they would want to). It is a story centred more around the human condition and the tough choices that need to be made, proving that a quiet composure on the outside does not reflect what is on the inside. The lack of action scenes makes it appear like nothing is happening, but the truth is that a lot is going on, it’s all on an internal and emotional level.

CHARACTERS
In Shiver, I wasn’t too impressed with how Stiefvater handled her characters. I found them, especially Sam and Grace, to be flat and too similar to many other characters found in supernatural romances (such as Twilight). Luckily, it was not the case this time around and I felt like I got to see complexities in her four main characters.

Each one presented a different conflict that teenagers have to face at some point while growing up, often relating to the future.
  • For the first time in years, Sam’s future is filled with possibilities.
  • Grace’s future is uncertain and potentially cut short due to an illness.
  • Isabel can’t face the future because she’s stuck with her anger in the past.
  • Cole doesn’t want a future, he’d rather disappear

By having four distinct voices, Stiefvater ensured that there was at least one character readers could relate to. Of course, these four perceptions are not the only ones that teenagers go through, but they encompass how many people feel. There also wasn’t any flip flopping in their opinions, but an organic progression that was easy to follow. There wasn’t a single point where I was confused as to why someone saw their future a certain way versus another.

With the treatment of deeper issues, Stiefvater brought more layers to the characters. They felt far more three dimensional than in the previous book. Their flaws weren’t just based in fears (like in Shiver), but were deeply rooted in their personalities, to the point that they will have to learn to live with them like scars.

THEMES
There are far more themes in Linger than its predecessor. What I find to be an interesting juxtaposition is that the act of permanently becoming a wolf means something different in both books. In Shiver, it represented separation and a future that is forced onto people, of all things that we know are coming but we can not escape.

This time around, one could argue that the imminent and permanent change of becoming a werewolf represents death, specifically a human death. When Sam was saved at the end of book 1, it was as if he had escaped death, was cured from a fatal illness. Grace, now fighting the wolf within her, faces this same illness but with far worse consequences. Isabel literally lost her brother to the disease of the werewolves and is having trouble mourning and accepting his death.

Cole is tired of life and wants to be a wolf permanently, or die. With two options to end his human life, Cole was able to experiment with the idea of death. Before being bitten (and even occasionally after), he contemplated suicide. Now with the option of no longer being human, yet still live, permanently changing into a wolf appeals to him greatly. What’s even more interesting is that Cole is stuck in a state of limbo, neither fully alive or dead, because he switches between his two shapes against his will. It gives Stiefvater a chance to do what few authors are able to do with their characters: experiment with one’s own death without permanent consequences. It makes for a different and interesting story around teen depression and suicide.

Other themes (which I will not get into) are the future (as previously mentioned), romantic love (the relationships between Cole & Isabel and Sam & Grace are completely different), mourning, teenage rebellion, independence, and communication with parents.

LANGUAGE
Once again, Stiefvater wrote her book in first person narrative from the point of view of more than just one character. In fact, this time she split the narrative between her four main characters. Personally, I did not enjoy the constant switching between the four. The chapters are also very short, so we only get to spend a limited amount of time in each character’s head before being ripped out and plunked into someone else. Often times, the scene wasn’t over (the conflict wasn’t resolved), yet Stiefvater switched the narrator out of convenience, like she was picking and choosing who would speak and when because she felt like it.

There were times in the book where I wanted so badly to stay with the same character throughout the scene. Unfortunately, the decision to switch also resulted in more telling than showing. As an example, we follow Isabel while she is having a very intense conversation with Cole. It’s interesting and we are right there with her, but once she asks Cole a difficult question, we switch over to Cole and hear his internal monologue while he answers. I would have preferred to stay with Isabel and see how Cole reacts through her eyes. Essentially, Stiefvater has removed the reader’s opportunity to discover the characters through subtle language, instead opting to having them just tell us what they think and how they feel for most of the book. Lastly, there aren’t four stories to be followed in this book, but two stories. Sam and Grace’s are a single one, while Cole and Isabel’s are the other. The couples are so deeply intertwined with one another that it isn’t necessary to jump as often between individuals.

In Shiver, I praised Stiefvater for utilizing language to set a tone for her book. Most of it was focussed around the temperature (ie: cold and hot). This time, the author has successfully broadened her use of language to create visual leitmotifs everywhere in the book. As an example, Sam’s paper cranes return a few times, but they never feel superfluous. Instead, the image Stiefvater describes amplifies the emotional aspect of the scene. “I won’t let this be my good-bye. I’ve folded one thousand paper crane memories of me and Grace, and I’ve made my wish.” The cranes are based on an ancient Japanese legend as a means to have a single wish granted, but they are also representations of Sam’s perseverance and sometimes desperation. They embody Sam’s hope of realizing something that is out of his control; he will spend hours folding paper into cranes to have his wish granted, even if wishes are but a thing of legends. His desperate efforts are thus geared towards something that may lead to nothing. There are many other leitmotifs dispersed throughout the book. Naming them all would make this review unnecessarily long, so I invite you to discover them yourself.

CONCLUSION
Much like its predecessor, Linger is still a light summer read, but with a deeper more melancholic tone. Although it may not reel in a wider audience for the book series, it is a great second instalment to The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Stiefvater has spent more time with her characters, elevating the quality of the book to a higher grade. Their developments and relationships are at the centre of everything. For anyone who has read the first book in the series and isn’t sure if they would like to continue, I highly suggest that you give this series another try with book 2. I am glad that I did!

The Red Diary: Giving Your Character a Chance To Speak Up

So, I’ll be very honest with you, progress with writing since the beginning of July on the novel has been SLOW, as in nearly to a screeching halt. Confession: I’ve only written about 600 words since I got back in mid-July from my vacation out to Western Canada. Womp womp! What can I say? July proved to be an equally emotional and amazing month that has kept my brain heavily distracted. Then August kicked in and my work came at me like a huge tidal wave. Even when I could find the time to sit in front of my laptop for a few hours, my brain just couldn’t. You creative types out there know how hard it is to reel in a mind that won’t stop thinking about multiple aspects of your life. It’s like trying to get a hyperactive child with ADD to sit down and focus on their cursive calligraphy homework. You spend more energy getting that child to sit and start than what it takes for them to actually do the work. It’s mentally exhausting! After a few of these nights in a row, you begin to ask yourself “Why bother? It’s just not going to happen.” SO DANGEROUS!

There have been nights where I turned on my laptop, opened my word document and listened to a playlist of music to put me in the right frame of mind (there was even motivational chocolate next to me). I was in the mood. I could feel my character speak to me, wanting me to write her story. In short, I was inspired! HUZZAH! I overcame the hardest step. OR SO I THOUGHT!!! My brain kept switching from my character to my actual life at lightning speed. I just couldn’t keep a book-thought in my head long enough to put it into a scene. Stupid real life interrupting my fictitious book life! (‘Cause that didn’t sound like scizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder AT ALL. If I disappear from the blogosphere for longer than a month, chances are that one of my friends has said “Okay, you have now crossed the line. It’s time to go see a doctor. I love you too much to watch you fall apart at the seams like this“.)

Robot checklist 200dpi

Is Robot keeping track of my odd behaviour? This worries me greatly.

So what do I do with all of that creative energy? So much effort was spent to get myself inspired, and considering how hard it is to even get there, I don’t like wasting that emotional state. Back in July of 2010, I found a solution in the form of a writing exercise. I call it The Red Diary. You can call it whatever you want, but since the physical journal I’m writing in is red… well, self-explanatory and what not.

Red Diary Robot

Robot likes to follow my writing process and find out what’s going on with my main character. Mostly, he enjoys playing hide and seek while I’m trying to work.

I have mentioned in a previous post the importance of research when writing a book. The main focus was geared towards what I like to call “external research”, meaning that you had to find the information you needed from outside sources, such as books, specialists, life experiences, ect. Today, I’ll be touching on “internal research”. I’m talking about the kind that you have to do with nothing else but the power of your brain, and maybe a pen and paper. Please note, these “terms” that I’m throwing out there aren’t real ones. This is just how I like to call them.

Internal research consists of hours of reflexion spent on your story and characters. A lot of it looks like this me staring off into space for extended periods of time.

Sure, it doesn’t look like there’s much happening, but what’s really happening is a kind of controlled chaos that only I can sift through to eventually come out of the muck with hopefully one good idea I can walk away with. And if I’m REALLY lucky, that one good idea will stay good and not fall into the imaginary waste bin of “things that seemed good at 2am, but really my brain was drunk-tired”.

Internal research can happen at any point during the writing process. In fact, you’ve probably been doing it at your desk, on the bus, on the toilet, at a blueberry festival, while jumping out of planes, or instagraming your weekend adventure of cowback riding (instead of horseback, ’cause you’re a REAL cowboy). It’s when you not only think about your story and characters, but how to develop them.

The Red Diary is my chosen exercise for internal research directly related to my main character. It is a journal where she is allowed to talk about whatever she wants without respecting chronology or having to explain herself. If she’s sad about something, she can choose to write about it, or about how it makes her feel. If she’s in love, she can talk about this person as much as she wants. If she is confused, she can write out her thoughts until she has an epiphany. This has helped me in many ways:

  1. Finding my character’s voice
  2. Understanding how she perceives and feels about other characters
  3. What information she knows versus what I know
  4. How her relationships with other characters develop
  5. Her motivation behind certain actions
  6. Discovering her backstory, even though I may never mention it in the books
  7. Seeing how and why she develops
  8. Realizing that she doesn’t want to do what I want her to do, so I have to find the happy medium between what we both want
  9. Uncovering how she reacts in situations that may not make it into the books
  10. How she perceives her life: her priorities and personal philosophies

All of these (and many more that I can’t think of at this very moment) are INTEGRAL to my writing process. By giving my character a safe place to speak without judgement, parameters, or pressure, she and I have an opportunity to openly discuss everything. I might not have the focus to write in prose a scene that she is living at that very moment, but I can let her go on and on about it in the journal.

I also end up having a great reference diary for the future. There are entries that I have written back in 2011 that I am re-reading today to remember how she felt about another character or a situation. Honestly, it has been a tremendous help! Because now I have a record of her emotions, which is very different from the pages and pages I have summarizing and analyzing scenes and character. There is a huge difference between reading how you want a character to develop versus watching it happen.

So give your character a chance to speak up. You might just be surprised with what you’ll discover about them in the process. They might not be who you thought they were, or they might become more real and 3 dimensional than before.

META-NOTE: Wouldn’t it also be crazy if I one day discovered that my character actually does exist, meet her, and she reads a diary in her words that she never actually wrote? Also, wouldn’t it be crazy if I was a character in a writer’s story and somewhere out there they have a diary written out of chronology in my voice about the events of my life? O_O

Robot phone 200dpi

From the sounds of his beeps and boops, I have only been able to discern the words “unstable”, “worried”, “breakdown”, and “immediately”. Was that checklist a preliminary exam for a psychiatrist? I better find out before white coats take me away.

Elliott Brood and Harlan Pepper

SPECIAL MUSIC ANNOUNCEMENT!
I would like to start this blog post by sharing with everyone that this Saturday, August 3rd 2013, one of my favourite local Toronto rock bands, The Honeyrunners, will be playing live at The Horseshoe Tavern alongside another solid rock band called Black Pistol Fire. So if you are looking for something to do on Saturday evening (or if you already have plans that you should cancel because this will be better than whatever you can come up with) head on down to Queen Street East and get ready to dance your way to a bangover the next morning. It’s going to be sweet and TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Back to our regular programming:
It has been a while since I’ve written about music in this blog, and I think it’s about time I bring it back with two bluegrass bands I had the pleasure of seeing live.

Let’s kick it off with some indie Ontario music that got me moving on the dance floor, Harlan Pepper.

This four piece bluegrass band with a whole lot of soul hails from Hamilton, Ontario and have been playing together since 2008. Barely out of high school, the four musicians joined forces. But don’t be fooled by the label of “high school band”! They are more than those you went to high school with who one day decided to form a band without ever actually going anywhere. These four gentlemen are for real. Despite their young age, their sound is far older and refined than many bands in their age bracket. In fact, you might have to take a moment to get over the initial shock of what they sound like in comparison to their youthfulness. In fact, Harlan Pepper have already shared the stage with notable names such as Born Ruffians, Sadies, and Feist.

But what do they sound like, you ask? Well, to be honest, I couldn’t describe any better than how they present themselves on their website, so here’s a little blurb from them about their CD: “Young And Old conjures up a session where Gram Parsons, Buck Owens and Hank Williams pay a Basement Tapes visit to sit in with contemporaries like Joel Plaskett and Jeff Tweedy.” Their mix of catchy bluegrass, soulful roots,  hint of folk, and a banjo that will make you move is just what the doctor ordered if you enjoy this type of music. You can sample some of their tunes on their website here.

Harlan Pepper’s album Young and Old (released in 2010) is available for purchase in CD format for $15, or for download at $8.
Young and Old tracklist:

1) Great Lakes (available as free download)
2) El Jandro
3) Little Miss Sunshine
4) Sweet Lucy
5) No
6) Royal Variety
7) Reefer
8) Yeah
9) Burnout
Official site: http://www.harlanpepper.com/
Bandcamp: http://harlanpepper.bandcamp.com/
Myspace: https://myspace.com/itsharlanpepper
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harlan.pepper
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HPHarlanPepper

Next up, we’ve got a bigger name in the bluegrass/folk music scene that if you don’t already know, stay tuned: Elliott Brood.

Although the name makes you think that I am talking about a single individual who has a band, the truth is that there is no band member named Elliott Brood. In fact, the name is a non-existent entity for the Toronto trio made up of Mark Sasso, Stephen Pitkin and Casey Laforet. In a way, their music is so tight and well-crafted that one can only believe that all three brilliant minds think as one. They write songs that feel grounded in history whilst sounding modern. It’s an interesting mix that we listeners rarely get to hear. Back in 2007, the band embarked on their first European tour which took them throughout the backroads of France. All three members were raised with stories of Canadians in World War I and have become military history enthusiasts. This is just one of the many examples of how their music is influenced by our human story. Each song is crafted as a sonic cinematic landscape, transporting you to another place that you’ll get to experience fully when listening to an album from beginning to end.

Live, they are able to own the stage with their enchanting mix of acoustic guitars, drums, harmonicas and banjos. However, what really separates them from the rest of their kind is that they bring an alternative flavour with just a dash of country-rock, creating what I think might be the most hardcore version of bluegrass-folk I have ever heard… in a VERY pleasing way. It’s a heavier version of bluegrass. Dare I even label it as grasscore (hardcore bluegrass)? I think I do dare. GRASSCORE IT IS! In fact, as I listen to their album Mountain Meadows while writing this blog post, I can’t help bouncing in my chair, head banging, and fist pumping (one fist might be holding a spoon of Nutella for gastronomic pleasure).

Elliott Brood have three albums out which include Ambassador (2005, Juno-nominated), Mountain Meadows (2008, short-listed for the Polaris Prize), and their most recent release Days into Years (2012). All albums are available for purchase on iTunes at very affordable prices between $7-$10.

Myself, I am a big fan of their second album Mountain Meadows.

Mountain Meadows tracklist:

1) Fingers and Tongues
2) T-Bill
3) Write It All Down for You
4) Without Again
5) Garden River
6) The Valley Town
7) Notes
8) Woodward Avenue
9) 31 Years
10) The Spring Floods (Interlude
11) Chuckwagon
12) The body
13) Miss You Now

On the band’s website, Lilisa Ladouceur describes their latest album Days Into Years perfectly: “Days Into Years presents these reflections as a celebration of life, particularly on the perfect summer single “Northern Air”, a love letter both to the rural Ontario landscape and the memory of a departed friend whose spirit now resides there.” (R)

Days Into Years tracklist:

1) Lindsay
2) Lines
3) If I Get Old
4) Hold You
5) Will They Bury Us?
6) West End Sky
7) Northern Air
8) My Mother’s Side
9) Owen Sound
10) Their Will

Just check them out! You won’t be disappointed!

Official site: http://www.elliottbrood.ca/
Bandcamp: http://elliottbrood.bandcamp.com/
Myspace: https://myspace.com/elliottbrood
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/artist/elliott-brood
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliottbroodband
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElliottBROOD

Ysabel: Book Review

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of those Canadian authors (from Weyburn Saskatchewan) who has always intrigued me. My friend Jonathan introduced me to him and since then I’ve bought five of his books, but it took months before finally cracking one open. I love fantasy books, but one of the downsides is that they are often in a series. Granted, series can be great, because it allows you to spend an extended period of time in the world created and really dig deep into the characters… but sometimes you want fantasy without the commitment. You want to escape to a faraway land without opening yourself up to a long-term relationship with prolonged emotional breaks between novels (I’m looking at you George R. R. Martin). Guy Gavriel Kay is a historical fantasy author (fictional worlds based on real historical periods) that primarily works with trilogies and stand alone novels. Considering Ysabel is his national bestseller, I decided that it would be a good place to start.

Title: Ysabel
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Published by: Penguin Books Ltd
Edition: Paperback, 506 pages
Language: English
Published: 2007
ISBN: 0143016695

Ned Marriner is spending springtime with his father in Provence, where the celebrated photographer is shooting images for a glossy coffee-table book.

While his father photographs the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence, Ned explores the shadowy interior with Kate Wenger, an American exchange student who has a deep knowledge of the area’s history. They surprise an intruder in a place where he should not be: “I think you ought to go now,” he tells them, drawing a knife. “You have blundered into a corner of a very old story.”

In this sublime and ancient part of hte world, where borders between the living and the long-dead are most vulnerable, Ned and those close to him are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing and claiming lives.

Rating: 2 stars

Robot 2 stars 300dpi

Consensus: Although all of the elements are present to make Ysabel an exceptional book, Kay’s slow pacing, passive scenes, and lackluster ending don’t live up to the hype surrounding this novel.

STORY
If you’ve read the blurb of the book, you might be thinking the same thing I was “This sounds neat, but I have no idea what it’s actually about.” The truth is that the blurb tells you nothing about the book. I didn’t even know what genre it was until I was about halfway through. It turns out that this is ahistorical urban fantasy centred around a very old love triangle. For those curious to know what to expect, Ysabel is set in a world where the present and past occasionally collide, where druids and magic exist, where love can last throughout the ages, and where a teenage boy discovers that he is somehow related to all of the mysterious things happening around him. At its very core, Ysabel is the story of two men who have been fighting for the love of one woman, doomed to repeat their history for the last millenia through various incarnations. It is up to Ned Marriner, a 15 year old teenager, to find a way to stop this cycle in order to save Melanie, his friend and father’s assistant in photography. Hopefully that paints a bit more of a picture of what you might expect.

As I was reading the book, I was prepared to be taken on a ride filled with intrigue and suspense. Unfortunately, I found many of the scenes to be passive with the characters sitting/standing around to discuss how they don’t know what’s going on. Sometimes, I found that it took them too long to reach certain conclusions. I may have wanted to occasionally wish I could just pop into the book to tell them “Guys, this is what this means, and this is what is happening. Clear? Okay, let’s move on!” Alas, I was stuck treading through mud reading and waiting for them to catch up to me. I prefer my author to be one step ahead of me than behind.

With few scenes involving suspense, I continued to read the book hoping that the ending would be a good pay off. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I was even warned by my friend Pierre-Luc not to expect too much, lowering my expectations. But even with that, I was still disappointed, so much in fact that I wondered why I had tried so hard to reach the ending in the first place. With this said, if you do not enjoy the book by the first half, than you might not be interested in spending the time required to finish it. The ending is not much of a pay off and left me feeling cheated.

WORLD BUILDING
As I expected from Kay’s reputation, the world he built was rich and complex. While writing Ysabel, Kay lived in the country side near Aix-en-Provence, thus giving him direct inspiration for the setting of the novel. Many of the places that he refers to are based on real locations that he was able to research firsthand and in-depth. Most importantly, it shows!

There was a strong sense of history ingrained in the urban fantasy world, as well as how that history directly relates to the story. I can not remember moments or sceneries that he describes which aren’t important. Granted there might be a little bit too much description for some readers, but I personally enjoyed it. All of the scenery and buildings in the book were depicted with a specific language in mind that allowed me to picture things clearly.

The main conflict of the story revolves around an event that happened a thousand years ago. Throught the first half of the book, small hints of this historical moment are dropped in pieces, like a puzzle, allowing the reader to try and decipher the meaning of it himself. Luckily, if you aren’t able to see the big picture, Kay explains how it’s all related by the end without hitting the nail on the head too hard.

There are also two characters from The Fionavar Tapestry who make appearances: Kim and Dave, Ned’s aunt and uncle. Having not read this trilogy prior to Ysabel, I felt that there were pieces of the world that I was lacking. Both Kim and Dave were constantly referencing moments and bits of information which appear to have been addressed in the trilogy, but never delved deeper into it with Ysabel. I am positive that those who have read The Fionavar Tapestry beforehand found these Easter egg moments to be tantalizing and exciting, but for the rest of us, it was quite frustrating. On occasion, I felt like Kay was dangling hints of information in front of me, but would never tell me why or what it was about. In my opinion, if it isn’t essential to the story, please don’t drop all of these hints. If they are essential, then please elaborate a little since chances are that not all of your readers have read the previous series. It is also important to note that nowhere have I heard that one must read The Fionavar Tapestry before Ysabel. Ysabel is considered to be a stand alone novel in the same universe as The Fionavar Tapestry. They are not combined as a series.

CHARACTERS
Guy Gavriel Kay has a real talent for building three dimensional characters. Within the first scene of each character, you have a real sense of who they are and their purpose in the story. Rarely have I been able to read a book and be able to picture each individual well both visually and emotionally. The main character, 15 year old teenager Ned Marriner, was the best example of them all.

Reading the book (predominantly) from Ned’s third person limited perspective allowed Kay to dive into the mind of a teenage boy, which he did successfully. Within the first chapter, you had a real sense of who Ned was, the type of teenage boy he was, and his thought process. Most important of all, he sounded like a real teenager. Either Kay has an incredibly good memory and remembers exactly what it’s like to be male at that age, or he did his research and spent a substantial amount of time with the character. We, the audience, are even able to decipher certain emotions that Ned feels, but that he himself doesn’t understand quite yet.

In general, the dialogue and actions for each individual characters were credible. Everyone had their own voice and personality: it would be very hard to mistake one for the other. Even the characters of Ysabel, Phelan and Cadell spoke and acted in ways that were appropriate for their period of history. Their behaviour is only adapted enough so that they wouldn’t stand out too much in a public environment. I would read another novel by Kay based solely on his characters. If he can keep this high of a quality consistent with his other novels, than I will definitely be giving him another chance.

PACING
Despite having great characters and a rich world to write in, Kay’s pacing of the novel is where he lost me as a reader. I found the book to be slow, passive, and filled with scenes of characters searching through the city or talking about how little they know about what’s going on. I can enjoy books that aren’t heavy with action sequences and that don’t move a mile a minute, but it has to work with the story. Ysabel was slow, yet the nature of the story made me want it to move faster, for the characters to take more charge. The combination of the type of story and pacing just didn’t work for me. By the end of the book, I was glad to be done, mostly because I was more interested in moving on to something else. That is a very bad sign.

CONCLUSION
Despite having done all of the research required to make Ysabel a well-rounded and rich novel, the story isn’t particularly engaging. It’s disappointing that such hard work put in separate elements did not equal to a captivating novel. This book is an example that just because all of the pieces are in the right place and well expanded upon does not mean that the whole will be great. There was still that magic touch of storytelling that was lacking. I am saddened that Ysabel was my introduction to Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing. However, seeing that he is capable of being so strong in certain aspects of writing, I will gladly give him another chance. I do not recommend Ysabel as an introductory book to Kay.

Metaphorical Book Weight: When Your Book Feels More Like a Crushing Boulder And You Definitely Aren’t Atlas

First announcement, my self-imposed/accepted challenge two weeks ago was successful. I didn’t go out socially or to a single concert until Saturday for Kingston’s Skeleton Park Music Festival. Okay, so I’ll admit that I did have a very impromptu social evening with the wonderful Noémi on Friday night, which means that no writing got done, BUT, we did spend at least two hours talking and brainstorming about one of her latest upcoming projects, so it was still writing-oriented in nature. After all, how many hours has this girl spent listening to me go on and on about my process, my writing anxieties, and been my test-audience guinea pig for about half of the creative decisions I make? MANY MANY HOURS! A measly two hours of my time is nothing in comparison to what Noémi has already given me.

Anyway, my unconditional love for Noémi aside, I did succeed at the week’s challenge. Robot tried really hard to deter me from succeeding, but my will-power was strong. Luckily, I didn’t give in to the ticket he purchased for my ideal concert evening. He was very disappointed that this meant no blueberry pie would be produced from my failure. I don’t mean he was disappointed where he made a comment and got over it, I’m talking full-on DEPRESSED! It broke my heart!

(No pictures of depressed Robot were taken because it was just too sad.)

With the crazy life that I have been leading recently, I decided to bake him that blueberry pie anyway. He has been quite neglected and left alone in the apartment for the last month. I felt bad! So I made him a pie anyway to cheer him up and make peace. I just hope he won’t start acting depressed every time he wants something. Those beady-Robot-puppy eyes are lethal!

Robot pie 200dpiMoving on!

Goals and challenges are made to:

  • Better yourself
  • Better someone else or make them happy
  • Accomplish something that seemed impossible
  • Learn something
  • Drunken stupidity
  • Ego gratification
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Keeping one’s pride

Uh… I was planning on making that list a lot more positive than how it turned out. The points I wanted to focus on though were the first four, so even though I could use my mouse to select the second half of the list, then press either “backspace” or “delete”, erasing any traces that those possibilities ever existed, I won’t, because, well, I guess it’s just a little more insight for you guys into the strange brain that resides in this skull of mine.

ANYWAY (so many tangeants in this post!) I should probably get back to writing what I came here to share with all of you.

On the evening of Wednesday June 19th, around midnight, whilst in a full writing spree, I suddenly felt the weight of my book. I was finishing up a scene and everything just seemed so… BIG! I looked at my word count, the number of pages written, the number of cue cards laid out on my table (and how many are written out), and that’s when my brain realized something: “I’M NOWHERE CLOSE TO FINISHING THIS BOOK!”

Now, of course, I already kind of knew that, but I had it in my silly head that I’d been done the first draft and round of edits by May 2014. It seems plausible, right? At least, that’s what I thought.

WRONG! Because it’s me, my neurones went into overdrive and started doing math to try and find some end date that would make me feel better. Relief from the idea of the book being so big. Good idea, right?

WRONG AGAIN! Mwahahahahaha! (This evil laughter is only in place because laughing at myself keeps me sane. Don’t judge me!)

So, what did this math look like you ask?

I have 33 cue cards in total.
Only 2 cue cards have been written out.
I have written 24 pages at Times New Roman pt 12 single space, or 13,100 words.
For a normal mass trade paperback, each page is about the equivalent to 3 paperback pages.
Thus, I have already written 72 pages in mass trade paperback format.
I am aiming to have this novel between 70,000 – 90,000 words.
For the week (and a productive one too), I was able to dish out about 700-1,200 words per night. Let’s round it 1,000 words per night for the sake of it.

SO, 90,000 words total – 13,100 words written = 76,900 words left to write
At 1,000 words per night, that’s 76.9 nights of writing, or 77, because rounding up is easier.

Confused yet?

Robot confused 200dpi

Robot would like to know where all of this math is leading to, as well as why Ai Rei is doing this math instead of writing.

Now, of course, I will not be writing every single night due to life circumstances (such as actually having a life outside of this book BECAUSE IT’S ESSENTIAL TO MY GENERAL HEALTH AND SANITY), so I’ll probably only be writing about 4-5 days a week. Let’s say 4 to factor in all of those holidays, family visits, work, random travelling, and unmotivated evenings.
I will thus only be spending about 58% of my evenings writing.
If I write 58% of the time over a span of 77 days (which is 100%), I will actually need 121.5 days to write out the rest of 76,900 words.

That’s really not so bad! I can absolutely do that. You must be thinking: “Ai Rei, you so crazy! You have absolutely nothing to worry about. You are on the right track and just need to keep yourself motivated. Stop being a cray-Rei!” Right?

WRONG WRONG WRONG! Because now it’s time to start the third part of the math that ran through my head (and yes, this whole process happened in about 60 seconds). This math is where I discovered that my goal of 90,000 words is just a random number that I pulled out of thin air.

Let’s go back to those cue card numbers, shall we?
I have a total of 33 cue cards, each containing complete and complex scenes (some even with multiple settings).
I have written out only 2 of those cue cards so far.
There are 13,100 words written down.
13,100 words ÷ 2 cards = 6,550 words per cue card
33 cue cards x 6,550 words per card = 216,150 words in total
Uh… that’s 142% more words than I had anticipated.

You still with me? We’re at the last part of the math, I swear.

I've lost Robot. He doesn't care about my math.

I’ve lost Robot. He doesn’t care about my math.

Of the 216,000 words, 13,100 are written out, leaving 202,900 words left to write.
With a book at approximately 202,900 words left at a speed of 1,000 words per night, it will take a total of 203 nights to write this book.
BUT, we have to remember that due to life circumstances, I might only be able to write 58% of the time.
So, it will take me 321 days to write the first draft of this book… WITHOUT ANY EDITING yet.

Finally, just because I needed to freak myself out EVEN MORE:
13,100 words = 24 pages, or 72 pages in mass trade paperback
216,000 words = 396 pages, or 1,187 pages in mass trade paperback

I have only written about 6% of the first book.

By the end of this brain kerfuffle, I realized two very important things:

  1. Even at my most disciplined, I will not be able to reach my initial goal of finishing the first draft and round of edits by May 2014.
  2. THIS BOOK IS WAY TOO LONG! There is absolutely no way I am writing a book that will clock in around 1,200 pages. THERE IS NO WAY! This book is suppose to be 500 pages, TOPS! That’s about 700 pages less than the math is telling me. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NO POSSIBLE WAY THAT THIS BOOK, WHICH IS ONLY THE FIRST IN A SERIES, WILL BE 1,200 PAGES LONG! I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IT! JE REFUSE! CE N’EST PAS POSSIBLE!!!!! (I refuse so much that I have to say it in French.)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when my book went from being a portable and easy weight on my shoulders to a giant globe crushing me. The world I created, the characters, the conflicts, the settings, all of it felt like too much. I didn’t know if I could handle it anymore. I felt like Atlas trying to hold up a globe on my shoulders, but struggling to do so.

Interesting factoid, despite Atlas often being depicted as holding the world on his shoulders, his punishment for siding with the titans instead of the Olympian Gods does not involve holding planet Earth. He was sentenced to the western edge of Gaia (Earth, back when it was also flat) to hold up Uranus (the sky) on his shoulders. This prevented Uranus from lying with Gaia every night, ensuring that no more titan babies would be made. So really, Atlas is holding up the sky, which can also be interpreted to this modern nerdy girl as space, and space is a BIG @$$ SKY! Also, out there in space is the universe, so Atlas is holding the entire universe on his shoulders to prevent more titan babies from being born. That is a lot of weight to carry! And with all of that in mind, my book went from being the crushing weight of a globe to the pulverizing-trampling-smushing weight of a universe I created.

The only thing I could do at that point was hit CTRL+S, followed by ALT+F4, and then shut down my laptop for the night. My brain was paralyzed.

Since that evening, I have been able to calm myself down and not let all of the scary math get to me. Still, it can get demoralizing at times. That’s when I have to push the math aside and remember how much of a process this whole writing adventure is. Some authors spend their entire lives perfecting a single story. Just because I read all of these bios and articles about self-published authors writing and publishing a book in a year doesn’t mean I should hold myself up to their standard. It’s about finding your own way through this crazy and messy process that will always be FTGOTB (For The Good Of The Book).

So I think that’s pretty much it for now. Give yourself a pat on the back if you somehow managed to make it to the end. I don’t know how you did! I barely made it.

Oh, and also, yesterday was July 1st, so happy birthday Canada! You kind of kick @$$ and I love you in so many ways. Big hugs to all of my Canadian friends, as well as to my international friends, because us Canadians are all about sharing the love.