Sunday, February 26, 2012

No rest for the wicked(ly awesome)

If this first business proposal works, I'm about to enter into one of the busiest periods since third year university.

If I get this contract (novelizing a script), then it'll be officially the first time I was paid to write a full-length manuscript.  This project has all the earmarks of a scary but good dream come true:  it's a crime story, it's historical, and because the script is already written, the hard part is already done.  If I get it, great!  I get to write something outside my normal era and slightly to the left of my genre (I write fiction, typically); and best of all, it's paid work.

And the coolest part about it was that originally, this prospective client had passed me over and gone for someone else.  On Friday, he'd sent me a message, expressing his displeasure at working with the previous person he'd hired (and later fired).  He'd invited me directly to try my hand at the project - hence, this recent proposal.

This time, I was smarter about the proposal:  I looked over the script, I outlined a series of milestones, including an outline for the novelization, when to expect the first few chapters, when to expect the whole manuscript, when to expect the completed revisions - all that - and for every milestone, a set monetary value.  No money held in escrow by Elance, no commitment to work; but, if the money is there, I live up to my own deadlines and get the project done.

In the proposal, I was very conscious of the fact that he'd fired the last person.  There are two reasons why I could expect writers to be fired:  1) they're very bad at what they do, and 2) they're prima donnas, unwilling to adapt their work to the client's needs. 

My first imperative, therefore, was to assure the client that I was willing to make any necessary changes as he saw fit - especially considering this is based on a true story. 

The second was to set personal expectations:  I'm passionate about what I do, and I stand up for what I believe in; but that's not to say I'm inflexible.  If I'm wrong, I fix it; and since it's his story, he gets final say, even if I don't agree. 

The third was to set more practical expectations:  to advise him I'd be asking lots of questions, that I'd need additional time to check historical facts, and that he'd need to choose certain things himself, things you don't necessarily have to think about when writing a script - point of view, verb tense, amount of detail, word choice, that kind of thing.

The fourth was to set realistic milestones.  That's always been a challenge for me, because I tend to set my own targets way too aggressively, then I get annoyed and discouraged when I don't meet them.  I know I can write quickly.  I know I can do it rather well, too.  But I have a lot of prior commitments to work around, and I want to give myself downtime, in case of the flu, or a broken leg or whatever.

The fifth was to set a realistic, though competitive, monetary rate for each milestone.  The client had laid out a budget, the bottom end being laughable, and the top end being very tempting.  I picked a rate that was about 85% of his proposed budget.  If I'm giving up Facebook and gym time, it had better be worth it; in return, I make sure he's very happy with the end product.  But I also know I'm new, with non-verifiable experience.  I won't press my luck.

And then I went above and beyond, the only way I know how:  I got started.  I sent him off a seven-page sample to show him what I'm capable of, with the full expectation that it's going to change.  I read the first few pages of the script, and I wrote the story based on the impressions made upon the movie-screen in my head.  I had to make a few jumps in logic, not having read the full script yet, and not having met the real-life inspiration for the story.  But we'll see what he makes of it.  Besides, it was a good exercise, taking a break from Mummer and jumping into the head of a different leading male character.

I firmly believe in giving free samples of my work, because promises don't mean anything when it comes to this kind of work, that much I know.  Experience can be exaggerated; a CV could be nothing but a pack of lies; and previous employment contacts can be outsourced to Bali (if not now, soon - I'm sure there's a market for it).  But if someone wants to know if I'm good at what I do, I should do it and let them judge for themselves.

I have no idea if my proposal or sample will intrigue him or not.  In some ways, I'm flying entirely in the dark here.

But you know what:  if I don't get it, that's okay too!  I have a lot of other things on my plate, and lots of other things to write.  Because I'm still working full-time, I don't have to sweat the missed cash-making opportunity.  Best of all, if I don't get it, that's more sleep for me!  (And more walkies for the dog, of course).  In terms of finances, I won't hurt if he turns me down.

This is the best possible place a new business owner could be in.

But there's another challenge I've discovered:  I can't get too enthusiastic about this first project, should I get it.  After all, he fired the last writer.  I still have a day job, I still have other commitments, and I have my own writing to do - to say nothing of the next round of interviews I'm about to launch.  If I overexert myself on this project, I risk falling short on something else.  And, if I rush it, I run the risk of botching the story and dissatisfying the client.

Of course, there's also the question of "do I have the energy to do it all?"  If creativity becomes my day job, how does that affect my non-work writing?  Will my creative energy be completely sapped?  Will my physical energy be drained, if I'm working two jobs at once, and if I'm still writing?

Here's where I get back to "being in the best possible place a new business owner could be in."

First, there's a lot I can do while waiting around for things to happen.  I can't start editing Mummer's the Word until I hear back from Verna; can't start working on any short stories 'til I hear back from an editor; can't work on Lady Butcher until I hear back from someone else.  So, I can do something while I wait.

I spend my down time thinking, planning, plotting.  As soon as I have the time, I'm well prepared to work on the next big thing - which makes me that much more efficient.

For another thing, I have an awesome entrepreneurial mentor in Mady Virgona.  She's been there, done that, and she's a fantastic example of self-employment success.  She knows when a start-up business owner is most at risk of fatigue and collapse.  She's been keeping one eye on me from the get-go, and she's been challenging my sworn fortitude.  She's allowed me to learn from her successes and mistakes - invaluable advice when you're starting out on your own.

Best of all, she's letting me make my own foolish mistakes.  Not that she can always help prevent the mistakes, mind you.  I tend to pounce on opportunity without a second thought, and when I tell her about it later, she'll usually tell me "I might not have done it the same way.  I would have done X, in order to avoid Y." And then I learn for next time.  If you learn from your own mistakes, then I'm learning twice as fast, because Mady can explain to me the hidden consequences of the business choices I make.

Mady, my big hearty thanks.

For another thing, I have friends and family who know me better than I know myself, who can recognize the signs of impending burn-out and know how to talk me back from the metaphorical ledge.  Sometimes I think they worry too much (though, if they saw how much time I spent on Facebook and computer games, I doubt they'd worry as much as they do).

Also, I have a dog.  If she's tired of me sitting at my computer too long, she will squeeze her sixty pound body between my chair and the legs of my desk, and the proceed to hip-check me away from the computer.  Then she'll dog-laugh at me, grinning and fanning the air with the bludgeon that is her tail.  If I ignore her, she'll flumph down on the floor and loose an eerily human groan.  She won't let me work too long at any given time.

What's the worst case scenario at this point?  I'll be unpublished, working a full-time job for a major corporation.  Y'know, kinda like...current state.  Best case scenario:  I get to a point where I'm good enough to be selective about my clientele and still earn enough to sleep comfortably at night, every night, with time left over for leisure.

So there, in a nutshell, is Hypergraphia Writing and Communication Services.  I finally have the impetus to do what I set out to do years ago, and I'm comfortably surrounded by a support system of friends, family and colleagues.

All I need now is the work, and for that first contract, no matter how big or small it might be.

Hypergraphia is officially open for business.

Next week:  more interviews!  And maybe, more news!

Monday, February 20, 2012

We pause now for station identification

A rolling stone may gather no moss, but it can gain a lot of momentum and roll the wrong way.

At least, so I've learned this year.  I've discovered that it's pretty darned easy to get wrapped up in the "writerly-stuff" without actually writing anything. 

So, for the rest of this week, I'm going to go offline.  But that's not to say I won't be busy.

For one thing, I'm going to be taking the time to prepare a whole new series of interviews for the month of March. Some of the neat-o interviews to look forward to coming soon:
  • Comic book creator and anime expert
  • Publisher, editor and online writer
  • Literary agent
  • Many more sf, fantasy, romance (yes, romance!) and crime fiction authors
I've also got my eyes on a couple of non-fiction authors too, but I haven't contact them yet - so shhhhh...

So why take the week?  For one thing, if I can build six interviews in one night, that's three weeks of blog posts 95% done.  I wait for the responses to come in, and all that's left to do is formating.  But I take time to research my interviewee before I even ask the questions.  I try to read through a lot of the previous interviews (if there are any posted on the author's website), so I can avoid asking tired-out questions from the past.

But, on top of that, there are a lot of other writerly and non-writerly events coming up.
  • Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival
  • Arthur Ellis Awards Shortlist Event, with Howard Shrier (finalizing the details and working on an advertising campaign)
  • Easter concert (I'll be singing and co-directing)
  • Finishing The Man with the Silver Tongue (the second in the Mummer series)
  • Increasing my marketing presence for Hypergraphia Writing and Communication Services 
  • New publicity photos - can't wait!  The shoot is in two weeks with C2 Studios. We should know probably tomorrow if the site we've chosen is available.  Should be awwwwwe-summmmm!
And there are some very writerly things I have to look forward to, too, over the next six weeks.  I know these things are not having a direct impact on my ability to blog and run interviews, but they are a distraction, and I want to clear my plate in case I have some editing coming my way.
  • Feedback about the completely revamped Mummer's the Word from Verna (endish of February)
  • Feedback about Lady Butcher from Marc Coté (endish of February)
  • Feedback about a science fiction short story submitted to a new sf anthology published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (March-ish)
  • Plotting Moon over Petticoat Bay (working title, a funny/satirical, historical, crime fiction, science fiction, horror mash-up) as my idea for the Muskoka Novel Marathon.  It's probably going to be a pain in the neck to market.
  • Plotting the story arc and editing the first few editions of Otherlings, a dark sf collection of novellas (five of which are already written satisfactorily)
  • Brainstorming the revamp of the third Mummer story:  The Mummer's Curse (working title)
  • Seeing what happens with a flash fiction story submitted to a CWC contest (mid-April).
Now, when you stop and look at the lists, you'd think that I was busy all the time, especially when you add in the day job and my regular church stuff.  Not so.  It's amazing what you can do if you cut out just one hour of TV every night.  I've watched a total of four hours of TV this month, so I have free time.  And even during the day job, there are lunch breaks, and during those periods when I'm running data, my brain is free to wander and plot for a minute or two at a time.

But most everything I need to do is done by email and phone calls, each taking no more than about five minutes apiece.  For the rest of the time, I do other stuff while waiting for responses.

And a lot of this stuff is over as of the middle of April - Blue Met, the AE Shortlist event, Easter - all happen within a couple of weeks of each other.  After that, I expect I'll be face-first in bed for a couple of days; and then after that, it'll probably be summer (the way this "winter" has gone), so you'll be hard pressed to see me at a computer indoors.

I could mention that I have a tendency of losing focus - and that this might be one of the reasons why I haven't been published yet, even after 19 years of trying.  (Yes, Tobin, I know:  "EPUB!  EPUB!  Direct to market!  GAH!")  I tend to spread myself too thin with multiple objectives.

But so long as I have something submitted at all times, I still figure I'm on track.  So long as I have the next stages of submission planned (after I get feedback from Marc, I edit, then I do X, then I do Y), then I consider myself focused.

This week off allows me to really sharpen that focus.  It's one thing to submit and patiently wait.  But it's another thing to break down the doors and make things happen.  I have enough material now that I can attack several fronts at once - and dang it, I want in!

So, anyhow, if you don't see anything new on Nine Day Wonder for a couple of days, here's a non-exhaustive list of some of the blogs I recommend.

Crime Writers of Canada National Crime Writing Blog
The Graveyard Shift 
Sasha Jackson Mysteries
Left to Write

Annie Off Leash
Type M for Murder
Kevin Craig
Michael Lorenson

I could write a list as long as your leg of all the blogs I haven't started following yet, but this is a good start.  And don't forget - if you like any of them, make a point of following them.  Folks like me, we get paid in "applause" - the number of hits to a site, the number of followers, etc.  So, if you like what you read, sign up and come along for the ride.

Until next time, Stay thirsty, my friends.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A rotten horrible challenge from Tobin Elliott

So far, I've been pretty lucky, never receiving any chain letters for at least the last two years. And then this morning, dang it...This happens.

I went and checked out Tobin's blog this morning, and he said...

I got shenked by Nate

Apparently I’ve been Shenked by Nate.  That is, Nate Shenk over at ShenkItUp who’s tagline is “Wanna get shenked?”.  He got nailed, so he’s passed this along like some sexually transmitted disease to me.  A real sick internet “hashtag you’re it!” sorta thing.
So…here’s apparently what I must do to get myself out of this mess…
  • I must post 11 things about myself.
  • Answer the questions asked by the tagger (Nate).
  • I must tag 11 other bloggers to continue the game.
  • Create 11 new questions for the bloggers I then tag to answer.
  • Inform each blogger that I have tagged them.
  • Post the rules for the tagged bloggers to follow.
Let’s see what damage I can do here, all right?

You can read the rest over at Left to Write.

Now, fortunately, I don't follow 11 other blogs, so I'm automatically out of the game.  On top of that, of the blogs I do follow, 70% are professional blogs with multiple contributors, and 25% are also tagged in Tobin's list of victims, and I don't want to hit them up twice.  The remaining blogger...well, I just asked her ten questions last night, and the answers will be posted on Friday.

But I'll try to be a good sport and do my part for the other four steps in this dastardly game.

11 Things About Myself

1.  This morning I had a dream about Jack McGee (the annoying reporter from The Incredible Hulk TV series in the '70s and '80s), and about forensic paperwork, time travel, two nasty CIA agents, antiques and and some My Little Pony dolls I had back in the '80s.  I cried uncontrollably when I saw the dolls, and I'm not really sure why...

Truly tear-inducing.

2.  I have to take the dog out now.

3.  I have a horse-shoe shaped subdermal scar on my right calf just below the knee.  It comes from a horse riding accident I had in the late '90s.  After falling from the horse, the horse stomped on me and ran away.

4.  I fractured my ankle back in the '80s after goofing around on the jungle gym at a local park.  I'd been trying to impress my boyfriend (we were 12 at the time), and I tried to jump from the very top of the jungle gym.  Unfortunately, my foot got tangled in the cargo netting and I did a 180, falling on my head and leaving my twisted foot above me.  I don't remember crying.  I do remember thinking, "This is a stupid way to impress a boy."  A couple of days later, someone told me he'd dumped me and had started going out with my anorexic bff.

5.  Apparently army green brings out the yellow in my eyes.  At least, so said a fellow 48th Highlander one morning in the mess hall.  He told me that overall I wasn't much to look at, but I had pretty eyes, the colour of fresh spring grass with some bright yellow pee in it.

Not actually my eye.  Add more blood-shot-ness, and darker bags under the eye.
6.  And speaking of my army days...My "butch factor" increased exponentially one afternoon, not because of any feat of strength, but because of Coke.  See, I'd gone two weeks without a drink of Coke, drinking nothing but water out of a canteen and the occasional instant coffee out of a pack of rations.  Then came the tuck shop (a foot locker filled with ice and real carbonated beverages).  We had exactly ten minutes between training classes, and I was seriously jonesing.  So I drank a full bottle of Coca Cola - and not one of those small bottles either.  A litre of Coke in ten minutes.  On my way into the class, I thought, "That's strange.  I haven't burped yet."  In the class, our master corporal was already in a furious mood (his face was red, and we hadn't even started annoying him yet).  As angrily as possible, he explained all the various components of a particular weapon.  Meanwhile, the bomb was ticking and pressure was building.  Then, the Master Corporal picked up another object from the table and said, "And this..."  To which I responded, "Baarraaaaaaaaaawaawaawaaapuhawaaaawaaaaraaawaaaaaaurghaaaaawawawawap."  The Master Corporal blinked, and without missing a beat, said, " a gas plug, which apparently Flewwelling needs."

7.  My dog just looked at me and pooted as I wrote that.

8.  I still haven't watched The Godfather or subsequent movies.

9.  When I was six, I had a crush on Hercules.  I used to polish my nails for him right before the start of the next episode.


10.  Apparently I swear (loudly) in my sleep.  I also wake suddenly at nothing, look around, and go back to sleep.

11.  Growing up, I only wanted to be one of three things:  a princess, a professional wrestler, or a writer.

The 11 Questions for the Tagged Bloggers (Tobin's questions back to his quarry)
  1. Why do you blog?  Because I can't play piano.  Well that, and because it's a great way to start building an audience before I publish a book, and because it's a fantastic way to help emerging artists get a little more exposure.
  2. What country (other than your current one) would you like to live in?  Easy answer!  Wales.  Hands down.  I went there in 2004, and I never quite came back.
  3. Who’s the best band/artist in the world?  Queen.  Nobody could move an audience of millions like Freddie Mercury.  And he didn't have to do it with pyrotechnics or flashy costumes or a meat dress and extraterrestrial hairdos - though he did have his wacky moments too.  But he could move people just by the power of his voice and his personality.
  4. If you could have a conversation with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose?  I would say Dona Catalina de Erauso, Nikola Tesla and Ernest HemingwayThe only problem is, I don't think they would talk to me, let alone each other.  But can you imagine the fireworks?
  5. In the course of your day, you hear a message from God (or your deity of choice) telling you to leave your job, family, and life and live as a fisherman (or woman) on the Nile.  There’s no doubt in your mind it’s truly God speaking to you.  Do you go?  Absolutely.  I've had the most incredible, formative, and touching adventures by suspending rational thought and following "the Voice."  It's scary how sometimes I arrive just in time to help someone else, and they to help me, when I listen and go.  But hopefully, I won't have to kill the fishes after I catch them.  I've had a bad history with fish that won't die.  It involves screaming.  And hand-flapping.
  6. You have one week to live.  What do you do in the seven days left to you?  The same as I do all the time.  I already live every week as if it's my last.  I might take a moment to tell a few people some bottled up things, but otherwise, I can die content not having said them.
  7. Your deity of choice (and if you’re an athiest, just go with me here) is holding a Celestial Interview.  You’re allowed only one question to Him/Her.  What would it be?  Simple.  "Why?"
  8. Has the Earth been visited by aliens?  Why or why not?  Observed, probably.  Visited?  Probably not.  Why bother?  Think of it - using Google Maps, we can look at the shirt, shoes and pants of some woman who fell down on the sidewalk.  If some alien intelligence is able to create interstellar craft, couldn't they make something a little more advanced and real-time than Google Maps?  If I were an alien, I'd observe us from afar, and I'd get very sad and bored all too quickly.  I don't need to visit some Earth diner for a nice corned beef sandwich to know how great and how cruel humanity can be.
  9. You can have any occupation in the world.  What would it be?  Writer.  I'm not loud enough to be a professional wrestler, and princesses have to deal with too much drama.
  10. What’s the difference between an orange?  Cephalopod squared.
  11. Define the universe and give three examples.  The universe is a big old assembly of distinct, bizarre and sometimes amorphous bodies clumping together in cliques, attracting and repulsing each other ad infinitum;  lesser bodies revolve around planets, planets around stars, stars revolve around centres of incorporated galaxies, galaxies revolve around nothing; someone's always watching the whole thing play out and trying to make sense of it; many people think there's someone behind the scenes manipulating it all; and everybody would rather spin out into nothingness and avoid hanging off each other for too long.  You know, it's rather like an overlarge church, or an after party for the Oscars, or any science fiction convention.

So, really, I would like to forward this on, because I think this is fun.  But Tobin took all the good names, and everyone else is too busy.  Sorry Tobin...I kinda flamed out.  So, here, have some Freddy Mercury instead.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Because I'm [Different] too.

It's a strange quirk of the Canadian identity that culture must be simultaneously celebrated and diligently ignored.

Think about it - really, there are only two facets to the Canadian cultural heritage:  our multiculturalism, and our not-American-ness.  That's pretty much it.  We're encouraged to celebrate our differences, but woe to those who treat one group differently from another.  That's not a bad thing - it's just where we're at.

A lot of people, myself included, are fascinated by the lives of others outside our narrow cultural niches.  I love looking at photos from friends' Diwali and Holi celebrations.  I live vicariously through my church friends who vacation in Brazil, in Argentina, in the Belgian Republic of Congo, in Benin and Burkina Faso, and Trinidadians who live in the UK.  I'll ask questions of people in wheelchairs, or who are blind or deaf, because I genuinely want to know more about their life's experience.  When the time is right, I say "Eid Mubarak" to my friend at the Second Cup.  I know that it's okay to say "Happy Hanukkah" but pretty awkward to say "Happy Yom Kippur".  My friends say "Happy Easter" and "Merry Christmas" to me, whether they celebrate it or not.

And I love it.  These are people who are different from me, and these are people from whom I can learn new ways of thinking.  And I'm happy to share my heritage, because in their world, they are normal and I'm the different one - and in some rare instances, my heritage is just as interesting as theirs!

But when it comes to work, their identity is invisible to me.  When it comes to standing in line, or to being served in a restaurant, or to serving someone else, identity simply has no bearing on the business at hand.  Language barrier?  We get around it.  Cultural misunderstanding?  We ask questions of each other, we apologize respectfully, and we don't do it again.
Do I care about the race of the person who just stopped me on the road to tell me I'd dropped a twenty dollar bill?  Does it matter if they're Chinese?  Do I care if they're Jewish?  Do I care if they're Martian?  No!  I'm over the moon that some honest person just saved me a week's worth of coffee money!

Do I really care if you're a White anglophone bad driver or a good driver of mixed-race?  No!  If you're in my way and if you're a lousy driver, get out of my face and take your car with you!

Special note:  if you don't have an open mind, save yourself an angry, sleepless night by stopping right here and going away.  If you are going to respond, please make sure you've read all the way to the end.

There are some that are exceedingly conscious of difference, and they can't get past it.  Racism, sexism, homophobia - it exists. History is paved with all the evils we have done against one another.  Ignorance begets ignorance; but studying history can bring up a lot of bad blood.  It reminds us how we've been wronged.

But this obsession with difference goes both ways.  Belittling one group in favour of another is bad enough; we can sometimes go too far with "[Difference] Pride" as well.  It can quickly become the downhill road paved with good intentions.

Take Black History month, for example.  I love it.  I really do.

As a matter of fact, I love all history - no matter the era, the continent or the culture.  Even the stuff I don't agree with - slavery, conversion by the sword, governmental systems I wouldn't have liked if I was under their yoke, etc., I love to learn about it, because it tells us why we are the way we are today.  It should teach us humility.  If we don't know our history, if we don't apply the lessons learned from yesterday, we're doomed to repeat it - and with our technology and reach, we can make a far bigger mess than ever before.

What fascinates me most about history are the people that drive it.

Take Ellen and William Craft for one tiny example.  Here we have a mixed race woman dressing up as a man in 1848 in order to escape slavery with her Black husband.  This is the story of an incredibly daring couple who traveled openly as White male planter and manservant - not as husband and wife - in an era of great violence against fugitive slaves, and of cross-dressers!

How about Marian Anderson as another example?  Or George Washington Carver - scholar and inventor?  Benjamin Banneker - astronomer and mathematician?  How about C.J. Walker - the first self-made, African-American female millionaire?

But why stop there?  African-Americans have a long and rich African history too!

Take 17th Century Queen Nzinga for another example - an African queen who didn't take any guff from the Dutch, the Portuguese or her own people, but rather who put herself on par - physically and mentally - with those who were her diplomatic equals.

Or Mansa Musa, Malinese king, who was arguably the wealthiest man of his day, who reinvented his country into a centre of global commerce and scholarship.

Hannibal - African. Shaka - African.  Osei Kofi Tutu - African.  Name a pharaoh!  Or how about reading up on the Dahomey Amazons!  Bet you never heard of them!  (Actually, until tonight, neither had I.)

But why focus specifically on one continent or another?

How about Trung Trac, the "She-King" of Vietnam in 43 AD?
How about Aisha bint Abu Bakr, one of the wives of Muhammad, and her rich history and incredibly complex involvement in the battle of Bassorah?

Or Yi Sun-sin, the brilliant Korean naval commander, who repelled 133 Japanese warships with only 13 ships of his own, at the Battle of Myeongnyang?

What about Catalina de Erauso?  Nun turned sailor turned soldier - just because she could?  Who, for fun or by accident, entered a Catholic church dressed as a man and was very nearly recognized by the same nuns from whom she had escaped?  And by her own mother?

And did you know the term "genocide" didn't originate with the Jewish Holocaust?  Did you know that during World War I (and after), Armenians were also subject to so-called ethnic cleansing?  How did I miss that in school?

I could go on for hours, I really could, but I have a point to make.  And that point is: we have a bad habit of celebrating one culture over another, even when we do it with the best of intentions.

Take Black history month for a prime example.  Morgan Freeman says it better than I can.

And yes, he said it.  Here's the interview to prove it.  And there's little more that I have to say about Black History month, after that.  But I will, because I can.

Let's take the timing of the event.  February is Black History Month.  February.  The second month of the year.
For fun, let's say we're now going to add in a Jewish history month.  Do we put them in January, before Black history month?  Or do we put them in March, after Jewish history month?  Do we put Jewish history before Black, or vice versa?  What a delightfully stupid question to have to ask!

Now, let's take a look at U.S. demographics.  In 2010, Black or African American citizens made up about 12.2% of the population.  That's a significant portion of the population.

Did you know that Hispanics and Latinos made up 16.3% during the same census?  When will their month be?  Or do they get six weeks, since they have more representation?

And heck, if anyone deserved January as a history month, wouldn't it be the First Nations?  How many "First Nations" were there in North America before the first Europeans arrived?  And within those nations, how many tribes?  How many clans?  We're talking about the combined land space of roughly all the countries in Europe, all the Middle Eastern countries and most of the countries in Africa - surely there's some Pre-Columbian North American history worth touting.

And what happens if you're of mixed race, as have been your parents, or grandparents?  Do you get to celebrate five or six times a year, or do you have to pick a race that best suits your colour?

But let's not divert too far away from the topic at hand.  Let's say Black History month is a good thing - and in a way, it is.  It helps us to stop and really reflect on how eurocentric North American history classes tend to be.  For example, I recall in high school that the closest thing to "non-European history" was Ancient History - Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Hammurabis and Pharaohs of the ancient world.  Nothing - zip - zilch - nada - about any culture south of the source of the Nile, and certainly nothing southeast of Siberia.  If we had "Asian History month" and "Middle-Eastern History month", I'm sure our young scholars would recognize more than Napoleon, Cleopatra and Hitler.

But there's a problem with making a big, month-long event of one culture's history.

For one thing, we're lifting non-WASP contribution out of the general context of history, instead of integrating it all together.  History wasn't written one race at a time; so why should we teach it that way?

Like Freeman says:  "Black history is American history."  The two are one and the same.  We should say the same about Canadian history.

And because there is a month reserved for one section of history, there's a tendency of saying "Oh, hey!  This is a great article about Elijah McCoy - the man to whom the phrase 'The Real McCoy' is attributed.  Oh wait - his parents were refugee slaves from Kentucky, and he was born Canadian, and then he moved to Scotland...Let's not talk about this now.  We should leave it for February instead."

Black History Month compartmentalizes African American history - which is the antithesis to the whole point of Black History Month.  Vice versa, it becomes terribly gauche to talk about White history during Black History Month.  To me, that sounds awfully like "Separate But Equal."

And worse - like Freeman says:  you're going to relegate Black History to a single month?  So who gets the other eleven?  Do we need a highly detailed calendar that summarizes all of history and all of culture into twelve neat sections?  Excuse me - ten.  After all, school lets out for summer.  And who goes first?  Who chooses which groups go first and which go last?

Now - here comes the backlash.  Someone, somewhere, is going to say that I'm against Black History Month - which in turn, makes me a racist.  Far from it.  Someone is bound to say that I'm protective of my WASP history and heritage, and that somehow, Black History Month is a threat to that.  Far from it, and shame on you for not reading the first half of this blog post.

There is a sentiment of "Now it's our turn."  Yes, it's time to celebrate your "differentness".  Guess what - it's always a good time to celebrate our differences.  Now more than ever!  Thanks to the Internet, and to those few, brave, firewall jumping freedom fighters, we have the means to do it.

But there is a backlash out there, and it's ugly.  I wish I could say it's done by the anonymous trolls of the Interverse, and in most cases, it is.  But I'm looking squarely at people I know as personal friends.  Smart people.  Eloquent people.  People who have a right to stand up for themselves and for their beliefs, who, in the process of blindly swinging their rhetorical fists, have socked me square in the mouth - without just cause.

Yes, Whites were engaged in slave trade.  I'm not.  That was history.  This is today.  I can't do anything about my being White any more than Louis Armstrong could have stopped being Black.

Yes, Christians - Catholic and Protestant - are guilty of some very bad things in history - to other cultures, against other religions, against other beliefs.  The Conquistadors are dead.  The Inquisition ended 800 years ago.  What the Catholic boarding schools did to First Nations children was wrong.  But I'm not one of those people.  In fact, if I overhear a Christian cursing anyone, I will go up to them and softly read to them a few choice Biblical verses about casting stones, overturning tables at the Temple, and about somebody not being sent into the world to condemn it.

And yes, straight people were - and some still are - guilty of atrocities and hypocrisies against people who don't share the same sexual and marital values as they ascribe to.  I'm not one of them.

I'm White from British descent.  I'm proudly and openly Christian.  I don't use euphemisms like "faithful" or "spiritual".  I'm Christian - moreover, I'm Baptist.  I'm also straight, and celibate.  Does that make me a slave-trading, eurocentric, Bible-thumping homophobe?  Far from it.

I won't speak against Pakistanis, or Afghans, or Pagans, or married transgendered people, or Americans from the Deep South, or people with physical or mental disabilities. For the sake of the individual, I will not judge anyone by the colour of their skin, or by their culture, or by their heritage, religion, sex or orientation.  To do so is called prejudice.  To insult someone based on their biology, nationality or ideology is called harassment or bigotry.  To insult a whole group of people based on their biology, nationality or ideology - that's called racism, or sexism, or any other number of -isms that are counter to rational thought.

And frankly, if you put a brown-haired, brown-eyed, well-tanned individual in front of me, I couldn't tell you if they were Russian, Italian, Egyptian, Indian or Armenian.  I won't even guess.  If you tell me they're Armenian, I'll ask all sorts of intrigued questions - what's it like over there, what did their family do, what's the best food, what's the best natural features of the landscape - because I celebrate our differences.

But I will judge someone against their own standards.  This includes Right Wing Christian Fundamentalists, agnostics, political leaders, thinkers.

So for those of you who are outspoken in your rights to be recognized and protected under the law, for those of you who are "[different] and proud of it," I say, good for you.  You deserve recognition, and you deserve protection.  That's why I live in Canada.  That's why I'm proud to be here.  And you don't need a month or a parade or an awareness campaign to do it.  Just be it.  All the time.  Everywhere.

But be respectful of others, lest you be judged a hypocrite yourself.

You have the freedom of speech - by internet, by print media, by spoken word.  You have that freedom guaranteed under by the constitution of this nation - the very backbone of all other Canadian legislation.

You even have the right to post "funny" pictures about people who ascribe to one religion over another - or to religion, period.

That is your right.

You have the right to insult my beliefs.  If it came down to it, if we were invaded by a totalitarian state that sought to revoke our right to speech, I would do as our forebears have done, and I would put my life on the line in armed combat to protect your freedom of speech - even when your mouth is full of insults and hatred.

Now take a look at the picture below here.

"Oh Memebase."  Facepalm.

Now, let's say I had put up a picture of two men holding hands and kissing, and I made some "funny" comment about them not being acceptable in today's society.  What do you think would happen?

I'll tell you what would happen:  George Takei would get on YouTube and put a rhetorical bullet in my rear end, that's what.

Now what if I replaced this image with one of the Buddha?  Or Mohammad?  It wouldn't get past the moderators, I can tell you that.  And if it did - well.  The consequences could be public and grave.

So what should my reaction be to this?  I could do the Christian thing and turn the other cheek.  But I only have so many cheeks to turn, and in the last couple of months, I've turned them all.  Now I'm dizzy and the problem hasn't gone away.

And even Jesus lost his temper when hypocrites and capitalists took over the temple.  Sometimes it's okay to get angry.  Sometimes it's right - and imperative - to call out hypocrisies.

My reaction is not "How dare you insult who I worship?"  What, did the Christ go cry in a corner the first time the Pharisees pointed their fingers at him and called him a blasphemer?  No.  He's bigger than any insult the interwebs can throw at him.

And my faith is not so weak that I feel threatened by outspoken atheists.  They're not likely to convert me to atheism with a poster like this any more than I'm likely to convert them with all my scriptures, testimonials and best wishes.

By the way, abiding by any particular religion doesn't make me somehow intellectually inferior or morally inept.  I have my reasons for joining this particular church; it was my choice, and it's a choice I stand by.  My faith directs how I act - even now, in how I write this post - and my membership in a church allows me to be part of a bigger community, one where I can make a contribution and where I can be welcomed. We help each other, and we hold each other to a standard we have share in common.  We hold each other - including the leadership of our church - accountable to that standard; we forgive each other when we fall short of that standard, and we help each other along.  Is that so wrong?  Really?  Really?

My real reaction is this:  who has the right to tell me what I should or should not believe?

This is an intellectual question as much as it is an angry one.

Don't we all have the right to freedom of religion?  Didn't we institute that in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that the Jewish faith could be practiced in safety and liberty?  And Islam?  And Hinduism?  Paganism?  Atheism?  Jehovah's Witness?

Do not get me wrong here.  (If you do put words in my mouth, I will ask George Takei to belittle you on YouTube.)  I'm not about censorship and political correctness; that would imply I want to shut you up.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I'm asking you to be sensitive to what harm we're doing to each other, and stopping it, voluntarily, consciously.

I'm asking my own friends to realize who they're hurting when they redistribute anti-religion propaganda like the above picture.  You have the right to insult me.  But be aware of how much it hurts me, and how much it undermines my faith in you.

I'm about celebrating differences, yours and mine.  If you say "Protect the rights and freedoms of my [Different Group]," I will support you.  I will defend you, even at great personal cost.

But what am I supposed to say to those who shout "Rights and Freedoms for my [Different Group]!" and then turn around and ridicule me for my own beliefs?

Memebase is grand, ain't it?

There are two such people I haven't confronted about this yet - two people that I count as personal friends outside Facebook and the blogosphere.  My passivity weighs heavily on my conscience, because I don't like pushing away people who are different from me, from whom I can learn, but I can't sit silently by anymore.

So why should these individuals ridicule my faith, when their own beliefs have been subject to persecution for so long?  Why should they ridicule those who have joined a church voluntarily in search of self-improvement?

It's not a question of "What right have they to do this?" because the answer is, "The right that's guaranteed by the Charter."

It's an intellectual question, and a painful one - asked in the same sad confusion a very young child might feel the first time someone says "no you can't, because you're [Different]."

You cannot uphold equality for all, not so long as you're bashing someone else for what they believe in, or for who they are.  So choose carefully between "celebrating" and "getting revenge."

So, what's say we stop bashing each other and start working on the hypocrites, and judging them by their own standards with the intent to address the behaviour, and not the beliefs?

Because I for one have a heck of a lot more fun celebrating differences, instead of dwelling on them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Half-planned whirlwinds

I'd meant to post a new interview on Tuesday.  I have an excellent excuse.  You see, in my world, it's still Monday.  This week has a been one very long Monday, interrupted by an inconvenient series of naps.

But what a Monday!

Sunday:  get up, make bread, pack the car, chase the dog around and around and around and around, pack the bread, get in the car, drive for six hours until landing in Oshawa Ontario, park, get out, unpack the car, chat with Grampa, go for dinner with my mother, go upstairs with dog in tow, lie in bed and pretend to sleep.

End Monday part one.

Monday (the real thing):  Endure 2 hours of fidgety sleep (one before dawn, one immediately after), get up, scurry the dog through ablutions, zoom into the kitchen, set up the laptop and attempt to rush through 5 weekly reports (due Monday), 4 monthly reports (due Tuesday), 1 major 5-year study (due Friday last week), and 1 major new build (due Friday two weeks ago).

Discover that only two data points (out of 65) are functioning correctly.  Yippee!

Spend the next nine hours freaking out.

Pause freaking out long enough to discover that the church (which you left behind in Montreal) is bereft of any music sheets.  They're missing one singer (me), one person for recording the music (me), and one person for the music sheets required by all musicians and singers (that would be me).  FAN-tastic!

Jump in the car; Mother drives, I text, email and Blackberry Messenge' frantically in English, French, jibberish and minced curse words while dealing with simultaneous crises.

Arrive at Durham College and be a cheerful guest lecture in Tobin Elliott's patient and polite Creative Writing class (all the while dealing with a mild case of food poisoning from breakfast earlier in the day).  Tobin says I did all right, but I thought I rattled on pretty much the way I am right now, hardly pausing for breath and not entirely making sense, though from one word to the next I seem to be coherent except until you stop at the very end of the sentence, your eyes whirling in their sockets, as you try to grasp the enormity of the vagueness that is my mind.  Holy run-on sentence, Batman.

Exchange cars with Mother, go home, move more cars around, go to bed and pretend to sleep.

End Monday part two.

Tuesday:  endure about two predawn hours of bizarre and disturbing nightmares, get up, chase the dog through her ablutions, screech over to the kitchen table and commence one-handed typing while jamming fresh-made bread into the side of one mouth.  Muscle through 5 weekly reports (due Monday), 4 monthly reports (due immediately), 1 major 5-year study (overdue), and 1 major new build (grossly overdue).  Parry all (understandable) complaints from upper management at the lack of reporting, riposte with excuses and ETAs.  Freak out some more, just for the cardio exercise.  Compile data for an additional 52 data points, and throw together as much of the reporting as possible.

Pause freaking out long enough to jump in a Dodge Charger with Tobin (leaving the poor bewildered dog behind), zoom down major highways into the heart of Toronto, jump out, and commence hobnobbing!  Tobin and I were delighted to attend the book launch of Howard Shrier's Boston Cream!  With Linwood Barclay as MC!  I met up with other such wonderful authors as Rick Blechta, Dorothy McIntosh and Jill Edmonson.

Hang around a little while longer, networking, blabbing, and generally making a fool of myself while Tobin wittily and coolly sits back, having a grand old time.  (I, in the meantime, couldn't stop thinking about a) interviews, b) reporting, c) churches missing music sheets, d) how gauche I must sound to "real authors", and e) how wonderful it would be to have a book launch of my own.)

Return home by way of a gut-busting laugh-fest with Tobin, spend a little time with my mother and grandfather, shuttle cars around, go upstairs, lie down, and pretend to sleep.

End Monday part three.

(Deep breath...and now we carry on.)

Wednesday:  Suffer 3 predawn hours of nightmare-infested sleep (did you know the emails you get in your dreams can be darned realistic?), get up, run barking after the dog as she performs her ablutions, jump in the car, drive to Scarborough by way of drive thru breakfast, work for an hour and a half, jitter around the office building with members of my old team (and accidentally end up sitting right beside Tobin), jump back in the car, drive back to Oshawa, run around Staples trying to arrange a data transfer sometime in the next 24 hours, run back home, work for an additional ten hours (completing 4 overdue weekly reports, 3 monthly reports, no new builds and a pathetically overdue 5-year study), decline an invite to coffee with my mother and some of her friends (COFFEE?  Did you say COFFEE?!), shut down one computer, run upstairs and turn on another, and watch the dog drowse and wag her tail.

I wonder if there could ever be such a thing as a designated sleeper.

Did I mention the food poisoning, round two?

Now, I could spend another hour and a half working up one of the interviews, or I could stretch out with a decent book, probably one by Howard Shrier or Ed Kurtz, or I could play a re-run of The Incredible Hulk, Season Three, then pretend to sleep, nightmares or otherwise.

I'm going home tomorrow night.  I need to slow down, and I desperately need to sleep.

As much as I love it out here, if I'm going to do any more freaking out, I'd rather at least be where I can access data through something a little more robust than a steaming USB modem, where I can blast music by U2, ZZ Top, Artie Shaw and Caravan Palace, and where I can walk around my apartment wearing nothing but underpants and a smile.

And that, dear reader, is why you'll be getting two interviews back-to-back this week - one tomorrow, and one on Friday.  It's because I like my interviewees too much to give them a slap-dash presentation.

Seriously, though, I picked the worst (and best) possible week to be out here.  Murphy's Law was waiting here for me.  And boy, did the week flash by.  The last thing I clearly remember was climbing out of the bath tub with Tobin's book (Vanishing Hope) in hand, and going to bed on Saturday night.

Oh waiiiiit a second...that might explain the strange dreams and the lack of

Meh - I can't  stay mad at him.  He drove me to Howard's event.

But a lot of good came out of this week, too.  Tobin let me speak to his class, I got to meet up with Howard Shrier and umpteen different authors - including some I'd never met before - and I managed to complete most of my reports, despite the arduous and frustrating delays.

And I really don't expect any more than 4 or 5 hours of conscious downtime between now and Tuesday next week. On top of everything else, we're starting up practices for the Easter concert at church (guess who's directing...), I sing on Sunday, I have four more interviews now lined up, and I'm trying to launch a new business.

I live in exciting times.

Is it June yet?

Heck - is it Tuesday yet?

Here's hoping some SleepyTime Tea will keep me tranquil for an hour or two.

Sweet dreams, dear reader.  You are now my designated sleeper.  At least until Tuesday.  Whenever that may be.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Someday never comes: Gearing up for the launch of my own business

This is one of those weeks when I wish I could go back over my time sheets and change "VACATION" to "SICK DAYS".  I want a do-over on this vacation.

Anyhow, despite the F4 migraine over the last three days, I did manage to get some things accomplished.  Writing wasn't one of them, unfortunately - not on any kind of a novel, at least.  Interviews - also neglected, though I intend on fixing that in an hour or so.

But:  I did write my first flash fiction (a story under 600 words), I've slept about 50 hours in the last 4 days, I won an eBook (from Ed Kurtz, horror writer), I'm attempting to volunteer at the YMCA / YWCA for literacy programs, I've edited something for the Crime Writers of Canada, I did a story consultation with Mike, and I've started setting up my own business.

Yes indeedy:  my own business.  My own workshop, my own livelihood, my own hours and office...

...No one responsible for my success or failure but me, no internal office politics... and unusual bills, complicated taxes, screwy retirement contribution policies, uncertain future, uncertain and unsteady incomes...

...long periods without any income at all...Feast and famine workloads...

...supplementary health and dental insurance that I have to pay out of pocket...

And that's why I won't be quitting my day job any time soon.  Before I make the jump, there are certain milestones to achieve first, including "find and advertise niche, collect $x in savings, gain x number of regularly paying contacts, spend x time in the business, collect x number of recommendations," etc.

But, once it's all legal, I'll be actively working my way toward full-time self-employment.  And I think I'm making some good strides already, including work on a business plan (really rough draft), researching the market, scouting prospective clients, and securing business cards.  I should have the cards in about two weeks or so.

Grand plans?  I have none beyond "don't starve and don't let the power go out."

So why bother?  Two reasons:  one is rational, and the other, not so much.

From a pragmatic position, it comes down to "I want to be a full-time writer and I want to keep eating." 

Let's say I manage to land a book contract and/or self-publish.  Chances are slim that I'm going to be able to earn enough from royalties and advances to uphold the standard of living to which I have become accustomed.  Additional money has to come from somewhere, meaning:  day job. 

My existing day job has a structured schedule and lots of perks - like a steady and predictable income, for example.  But, if I'm asked to do a book-signing on a Tuesday afternoon at a library in Montreal, I have to move around my existing work and my vacations around.  Heaven help me if I'm invited off island.  My schedule revolves around the quota of hours, the workload and when it's due.

Fortunately, my existing day job is quite flexible in terms of hours and location.  I can work virtually from anywhere in Canada.  If my passport was up to date, I'm sure I could work anywhere in the world, so long as I have access to the internet.  But what is less flexible is the amount of work, when it's due, and what meetings I need to attend.

So what's the problem?  Fulfillment.  I don't have that sense of fulfillment I once had, and it's not because of the work itself.  It's because every morning, when I log in and start updating my databases, or building new ones, or sending off my routine reports, it feels like I've betrayed myself.

And worse, I've been finding more and more that writing is distracting me during the day - the harder I try to focus on building a database, the more I think up awesome modus operandi for murder.  That can not be a good thing.

I work hard, I deliver accurate and easy-to-read reports on time every time, but I have to confess, my heart's not in it, and lately, my brain isn't either.  I've been spending more and more time going over the reports making sure they're accurate, because I don't know when a wild car chase in my head has distracted me from a critical decimal point.  That's not an efficient way to work.

And then, when I do sit down to write, all I can think about is queries, layouts, internal politics and the seeming futility of it all.

My two worlds have become mutually invasive.

I'm not doing what I set out to do.  In fact, in recent years, I feel like I've been getting farther and farther away from where I wanted to be, and that I've been settling for the easy way out.  I could quite easily work for the next thirty years at this company, have evenings and weekends off, take the odd vacation, and retire to a life of easy living.

And I would hate myself for it.  That's the irrational reason for starting up my own business.

Writing is in my blood.  It's what I do.  It's all I want to do.  Achieving a particular goal - writing as livelihood - is what I've been striving for since I was seven years old.  I can't turn my back on it without betraying who I am.

But I also like to eat, I like to go out for coffee, and I absolutely adore the fact that when it's been snowing and freezing rain for eight solid days, I can go downstairs and drive my car out without chipping, shoveling or swearing.  I also know that an optimistic advance will provide me enough for bookmarks, a website and maybe a week's vacation in Cuba.  Not enough to live by, not for a sustained period of time.

So, I want to set up a business that's "writing-like".  Editing, proofreading, ghostwriting - things I'm already good at.  Things I'm already doing for free.

And, I would much rather have an established sideline business to fall back on, rather than trying to establish a business at the same time as building up my reputation as a writer. 

Yes, for the first little while it's going to hurt, working full-time and running a business and writing and and and...but in the long-run, it'll be worth it.  I don't expect a flood of contracts the minute I open the door; I don't expect a flood of contracts even after the first 5 or 10 successful projects.

But it's the experience I'm looking forward to, as much as the cash:  editing, proofreading and ghostwriting.  I know, that sounds about as fun as building databases, but it's something I'm good at.  It's something I enjoy.  It allows me to read more, it allows me to see more of the market, and it teaches me how to be a good self-employed professional - in the event that I can write fiction full-time.

And I know the old adage: the grass is always greener on the other side.  But you know what?  I'd like to have my own lawn and make it green.  It's been a twenty-year dream of mine to own and operate my own business.  I almost had one going for a while there, too, but I was lousy at it, and I let too many other things get in my way.  I've grown up a lot in the last ten years, and I've learned a lot from people with entrepreneurial expertise (Mady, here's looking at you, kid).

I figure, if I try to set up my own business and if I fail, I might lose some money and maybe get discouraged.  Okay.  That's the risk.  And that's why I'm not quitting my day job.

But if I don't try, I'm going to regret it, because I would have assumed I couldn't do something I put my mind to, and because I didn't make an effort to try.  I would have let fear hold me back.

So, I want to try.

That leaves me too options:  start today, or start someday. 

And as Credence Clearwater Revival has told us over the years:  Someday never comes.