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.

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

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.

More Writing, Less Crowds: Est-Ce Possible? (Is It Possible?)

So, the last draft I have from book 1 of the series is dated May 21st 2013. That means that it has been 3.5 weeks since I’ve made any type of progress. That’s. Not. Good. Time for me to own up to it. It is one of the reasons why I started this blog a few months ago: to hold myself accountable for the work, or lack there of, related to my books. Sigh! Well, I confess, I have been one lazy wannabe writer.

I could easily use the previous excuses I have posted on this blog, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. Yes, my social life and work (toured throughout Northern Ontario) did take the reigns for a while, but the real culprit is an addiction of mine. Can you guess which one it is? I have already talked about it substantially on this blog. Have you guessed yet? According to the title of this blog post, it involves crowds of people. I’ll give you one more hint: it’s more auditory than visual. You’ve probably guessed it by now.

I’m talking about music, but more specifically CONCERTS!

Robot wants to start a band.

Robot wants to start a band.

Yes, I have been going to many MANY concerts and it’s time for me to slow down. I can’t explain what it is, but ever since CMW, I have become an addict. Okay, yes I went to concerts before that week in March, but it used to be only 2 or 3 a month. Now I’m going to 2 or 3 a week. It’s quite a difference. What can I say? There’s just so much darn good music in this wonderful city of Toronto that I can’t help myself! In fact, I’ve been going to so many concerts that I haven’t even had the time to write about them on this blog. My brain and fingers can’t type fast enough to review them all in time. The only solution to that problem appears to be to quit my day job and become a full-time blogger… but that’s not going to happen.

Don’t believe me when I say I’ve been to A LOT of concerts for a non-music reviewer? Let me list a few:

ANYWAY, I am sure that there are some bands on this list that some of you have NEVER heard of (specifically the indie ones) and they will most likely get their own music post at some point in the near future. Until then, I invite you to click on the links I have attached to each name to discover them for yourself.

My plan for the next week is to sit my behind on my desk chair (or on my sofa, or at my dinning room table, or on my bed… just somewhere in my apartment) with my lap top open and crank out more words. No concerts for the next week! Some of my friends don’t think I’ll be able to make it (I’ll prove you wrong), but I will do my darn-est. I fully acknowledge that withdrawal is a possibility, but all addicts have to ween themselves off of their drug… luckily mine is only detrimental to my writing and not to my health or life. The last concert I went to was The National on Friday night, which works out PERFECTLY since I’ll be heading over to Kingston on Saturday for the Skeleton Park Music Festival. Okay, fine, I’ll admit that planning my next concert (I shouldn’t use it singularly since it is a full day event) at the very end of my non-concert week might be considered as cheating, BUT I do have a very important personal reason for presenting myself and having a rocking good time.

I made a bet with Robot that if I can't go the rest of the week without a concert, I will bake him a blueberry pie. He's taking it very seriously!

I made a bet with Robot that if I can’t go the rest of the week without a concert, I will bake him a blueberry pie. He’s taking it very seriously!

I will leave you with this small piece of accountability: the last draft of my book clocks in at a mere 10,890 words. There are at least 70,000 to 90,000 more that need to be typed out. AND THAT’S BEFORE EDITING!!! Breathe. I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised that I wouldn’t even think about editing until the first draft was done. One anxiety attack at a time.

Thanks for bearing with me! Enjoy the bands listed above.

Choosing Your Audience: You Think It’s Obvious, But Really…

Picture this:

Early July 2012 – Falls Church, Virginia (just outside of Washington D.C.)

Gretchen and Ai Rei have decided to exchange writing materials to give each other feedback. Gretchen is lying on her bed reading some short stories that are part of Ai Rei’s series. Ai Rei is sitting at Gretchen’s desk and reading an early draft of Terra. Gretchen finishes a handful of the shorts first while Ai Rei is only about halfway through the new draft of Terra.

Gretchen: I’m done.

Ai Rei: So… what did you think?

Gretchen: This is not YA (young adult).

Ai Rei: What are you talking about? The main character of my series starts out as a teenager. It’s YA.

Gretchen: That doesn’t make it YA.

Ai Rei: But… wait… it’s not YA?

Gretchen: Definitely not! There’s sex, and swearing, and violence, and gore, and scary stuff… you are not writing YA.

Ai Rei: Oh…. are you sure?

Gretchen: YES! (exasperated look)

And that was the moment when I realized that I hadn’t put enough thought into my audience for the book. I had simply assumed that I was writing for young adults because my main character starts as a 17-year-old teenage girl in high school at the beginning of the series. Little did I know that my protagonist’s age does not automatically equal to my target audience.

Thus began the process of putting some real thought into who I was writing for.

During the very early stages of the brainstorming process (back in 2008-2009), simply put, I was writing for myself. I came up with a story, a world, and themes that I enjoy reading and wanted to explore. Eventually though, if you want to be serious about writing, you can’t just write for yourself. Sure, you can include people like yourself in your demographic, but being selfish and closed-off in your writing will only deter others. You have to take your prospective readers into consideration.

After passing the phase of writing just for me, I came to the conclusion based on my protagonist’s age and situation that I was writing YA. It seemed like a fairly simple conclusion to come by. I began to read a lot of various genres of YA as a way to research this type of literature.

A lot of books 150dpi

Wanting to help me with my writing process, Robot was a great roommate and friend and plunged head on into reading a bunch of YA. I’d like to think he had fun doing it.

I found patterns, recurring themes, narrative modes and many other things that make a YA novel, well, YA. As the brainstorming process continued, I tried to incorporate some of these elements into my books, despite the fact that there was clearly something not working in the union. Still, I was convinced I was writing YA. Plus, it’s a hot commodity right now, so it could only help me with future marketing and sales.

But then, with 7 short stories and the first third of the second book written (I don’t write the books in order), Gretchen stepped in and said four words (well, technically three words and one acronym) that changed how I approached the series: “This is not YA”.

With the YA label ripped away from the series, I suddenly found myself to be equally confused and free at the same time. So much effort had been spent on trying to fit my series into an easy to identify type of literature that I wasn’t able to see the big picture of what I was really writing. My book had to find a place somewhere in the vast world of literature, which I had mistakenly thought I’d found. However, with the YA constraints gone, I was free to really experiment with my writing. For the first time, I let the story take over and really pushed the limits. Riding the kite 150dpi

My target audience was no longer made up of 14 to 21 year olds. In fact, I didn’t have an audience, so I wrote as I pleased. I didn’t write for myself or for anyone else; I let the series write itself and I was just along for the ride. With no boundaries to block me, I eventually took a step back (not a physical step, more like a month long break), came back to my writing and realized that the series was for adults, maybe even the upcoming genre “new adult” depending on how you perceive the distinction between the two.

Of course, adult is probably the broadest category of literature there is, so it has to be narrowed down to find your niche market amongst the age group of 18+. Upon further evaluation, I deduced that it is of the supernatural horror genre with some books leaning towards psychological thrillers and others to urban fantasy. It’s safe to assume that I haven’t figured it all out, but at least I know that I’m on a path that I am both comfortable with and is organic to the series.

So why have I already spent over 800 words to describe this whole process to you all? It’s because identifying your audience IS IMPORTANT. By doing so, it will help give your story more structure and focus. Also, the point of sharing your work in any creative field is to touch something in the public, and you can’t do that if they feel like you are yo-yo-ing with their emotions and preferences. As an example, the first book of the series is a psychological horror thriller. If I plan on scaring people and making them uncomfortable, then there’s really no place for me to drop in a cheesy love scene where characters say that they are “destined to be together”. Cheesy love and horror don’t mix! It would be like taking Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and plunking him into the high school setting of Mean Girls. Sure, the image puts a smile on my face since the combination could lead to some rather strange and amusing scenarios, but on a more serious story level, it just doesn’t work.

Identifying your audience is also important on a marketing level (because it’s unfortunately never too early to think about marketing). You’ll have to stick your book in the pre-determined categories of Kobo, Amazon and Chapters if you ever plan on selling it. There is no such section as “undefinable” (although I know a few pretentious people who would eat that sh*t up), so drop the artist’s ego and find your tree to nest in.

I think it’s time to wrap this up. I guess the main piece of advice that I would like to leave you all with is to take your time when finding your audience. Remember, this doesn’t just apply to writing a book, but also to writing a movie or tv show, to composing music, to painting, to designing, ect. There is a public out there who wants to know your work. You just need to know who they are to make it more accessible to them.