Friday, December 20, 2013

Postscripts to Darkness

Received an email this afternoon from Ranylt Richildis, Fiction Editor at Postscripts to Darkness, with the edited copy of the short story I've sold to them, At Union. Just a few very small tweaks required. I'm a bit embarrassed I didn't see those flaws myself, but I suppose it's a simple case of that forest and tree thing.

Anyway, seems the crew at Postscripts are hard at work putting together Volume 5, and my story will be in it.

Ahem. You will please excuse the momentary loss of cool.

If you haven't checked out Postscripts, you should. They're publishing some fascinating short, dark fiction.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: The Midwife of Venice, by Roberta Rich

The Midwife of VeniceThe Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Roberta Rich's The Midwife of Venice was recommended to me by a colleague some time ago. It would seem tastes and expectations vary widely.

Rich tells the story of a Jewish midwife in 15th century Venice, caught in an intrigue which threatens her life.

For the most part the story is well-researched (there were a few hitches over which I stumbled, but I'm critical that way, among others). However, for this reader, the major hitch occurred when the infant the heroine, Hannah, delivers of an aristocratic Christian woman, becomes the major hook on which this story hangs. With the child dead, the two predictable and dissolute brothers-in-law will inherit all. Knowing this, and the proclivities of his brothers, the Conte whisks his lady-wife off to the country shortly after she is delivered, leaving the child behind in the known ambivalent care of the wet-nurse, and in the company of his dastardly uncles.

Given the Conte is presented as an intelligent businessman, and one of the patriarchs of Venice's senate, and a man who would do anything to ensure the safety and longevity of his newly-born heir (certainly he has paid an astoundingly handsome fee to Hannah to ensure the child's safe delivery), why would he then abandon the child who ensures his title to the questionable mercies of his uncles?

After that dissolution of belief, the entire novel fell apart for me, leaving me with a somewhat saccharine taste come the happily-ever-after ending.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: Westlake Soul, by Rio Youers

Westlake SoulWestlake Soul by Rio Youers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you haven't heard of Rio Youers before, you need to go out right now and look up Westlake Soul, purchase it in whatever form you prefer, arm yourself with handkerchief or tissues, and settle down for a story that will shatter you with its beauty, elegance and raw honesty.

Similar in emotional impact and tone to Mitch Alboum's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Youers' novel takes the reader into the world of former surfer, Westlake Soul, who is now in a vegetative state from a catastrophic surfing accident. Told in first person, mostly stream-of-consciousness, this is an ambitious novel delivered with such ease and simplicity it's as though Westlake himself sits beside you, telling you his tale.

And although the novel is pigeon-holed as science fiction, it is far more, part magic-realism, mostly stunning literary fiction.

The only caveat I would have is not to read this in public spaces, because people will wonder about the nervous breakdown you're having.

Well done, Rio Youers!

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay

River of StarsRiver of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It pains me to give only three stars to one of my favourite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay.

The story Kay relates takes up events several hundred years after the fall of the great dynasty in a China-like world Kay created in Under Heaven, revolving around, primarily, an unorthodox and intelligent woman, an unwitting and reluctant warrior/hero, and the usual cast of supporting intellectuals and likable villains.

I could not help but feel, however, Kay revisited what have become familiar and comfortable character-types and plot constructions, and thus the experience of reading River of Stars lacked lustre. His heroine is of course intelligent, an unorthodox woman in an orthodox society. His hero is caught in both political and magical nets. Both characters can easily be found in any of Kay's previous impressive canon. And thus, by now, one could hope for something new, something fresh from that highly literate and artistic mind of Kay's.

Certainly Kay's writing remains evocative and lyrical, with some breath-taking images and descriptions that cannot help but move the spirit. Yet even that was marred by Kay's understandable love of poetry and the poetic form, so that much of the narrative ended up lost beneath esoteric discussions that stopped all action.

Beyond that, Kay has chosen a narrative style in this novel wherein many subsidiary characters are introduced in detail, so that the reader is set up to believe this is a character which will continue throughout the novel because of the level of detail devoted to them, only to find by the close of the chapter they've been exiled, or killed, or in some manner marginalized, their complete future revealed and summarized and ended. By the second or third introduction of such a character, the reader no longer invests either attention or interest, longing to return to the main thrust of the story.

Most readers, I suspect, will enjoy River of Stars. Indeed there is much here to enjoy. But this reader, who longs to be surprised, found only the familiar, relatively well-executed tale, but without that lingering bouquet of a fine story-telling.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Review: Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times: Discworld 17

Interesting Times (Discworld, #17)Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rincewind returns in this instalment of Pratchett's Discworld, as do a cast of other heroic(?) characters. Good fun. Well written. No surprises, but giggles sprinkled liberally.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Rose Guardian progress

Finally back in the writer's chair after long weeks away. Have been searching for a work-around to the problem created by this frustrating D-Link router which won't let me access the main computer from the laptop.

So why not work from the office on the weekends? Well, cause the office is on the third floor, I'm arthritic, and want to be in the thick of what goes on in the house during the weekend, and don't want the temptation of doing work for the publishing house instead of writing.

Then, voila, lightning struck my brain! Doh! Why not use DropBox for The Rose Guardian files (thanks to J.W.Schnarr for this oblique epiphany) and access them remotely from the laptop on the main floor. Brilliant.

Did I say how much I love DropBox?

Was able to work in my favourite channel back chair in the dining-room. Bashed out nearly 1200 words of solid story. Very happy with that. And very much look forward to another wee go round after I put together green pea soup, and set rice pudding to baking.

So, months of cogitating have helped. DropBox has helped. Feeling very confidant this novel which has been in the works some three years now will finally come to fulfilment by end of February. Then my first reader will review and I'll set to a revision. Should have the revision to Robert Runte by fall I expect. Depending on his schedule, I may have a novel ready for publication by spring of 2015.

Anyone who thinks writing is easy is just plain insane.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Slow-roasted pork shoulder roast, and more

It's Sunday. A kitchen therapy day. I had a pork shoulder roast in the freezer, bone in, saddle attached, and thought I'd experiment with a fusion of eastern fragrances and tastes in a slow-roasted environment.
pork shoulder roast

The ingredients.

  • olive oil
  • bulb of whole fennel, stalks included, washed and sliced thickly
  • red pepper, washed, seeded and cut into chunks
  • whole bulb of garlic, peeled and minced; or frozen, pureed garlic scapes, about 2 tbsp.
  • whole onion peeled and cut into chunks
  • zest of one lemon
  • lemon, rind cut away, and fruit cut into chunks
  • a tart apple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2" ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 2 long peppers cracked (if you don't have access to long pepper, you can use cinnamon or grains of paradise, about 2 teaspoons)
  • large red chilli, finely minced
  • 2 tsps sea salt
  • 5-7 pound pork shoulder roast, bone in, saddle attached.

fennel bulbs

Preheat oven to 200F. Liberally coat a medium roasting pan with olive oil. Toss in prepared fruit, vegetables and seasonings, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and combine to evenly distribute flavour base. Make a hollow in the mix for the pork.

fresh garlic scapes

Score the saddle of the roast with a sharp knife, cutting through almost to the flesh. Place roast saddle side up in the hollow off the flavour base in the pan. Cover with foil.

long pepper

Roast for about five to six hours at 200F. When roast is nearly falling off the bone, turn heat up to 400F. Remove foil for last 30-60 minutes to allow the saddle to crisp.
grains of paradise

Serve over steamed brown rice and mushroom pilaf with a green salad.

Serves six to eight.

Leftovers can be made into a wonderful, fragrant soup with the following ingredients:

  • bone of shoulder roast
  • water
  • olive oil
  • large onion peeled, and finely minced
  • leftover pork roast and vegetable/fruit mix
  • 2 cups shredded greens like bok choy, romaine, spinach, kale, or chinese cabbage. You could also use bean sprouts
  • 2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)

In a large, heavy soup kettle pour enough cold water to cover the bone of the shoulder roast. Cover and place on high heat until water comes to a boil. Reduce heat to minimum and simmer for about 60-90 minutes.

bok choy

Remove from heat. Strain stock. Remove what meat you can from the bone and add to stock. Discard bone.

various fish sauce brands

Return pot to stove. Add enough olive oil to sautee the prepared onion, and cook until colour begins to develop. Add prepared greens, leftover pork and vegetable/fruit mix; stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add stock from bone and about an additional 2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock, the soya and fish sauce. If you wish a spicier soup, add more chilli peppers.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Serves 6-8.
Freezes well.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What were the jurors of the GG thinking?

I do have to wonder sometimes about the artistic and literary pundits of this country we call Canada and home. While I completely recognize the subjectivity of art and its appreciation, the jurors of this year's Governor General's Award I cannot help but feel have collectively been dropped on their heads, or have slick palms, or fail to recognize citizenship, or just plain didn't read all the books on the short-list, or the biographies of the authors whose works were short-listed. Truly, something is amiss here.

What first strikes me as incomprehensible is the awarding of one of Canada's most prestigious literary awards to a writer who has been a Canadian for all of six years of her life. Eleanor Catton, author of what I consider to be an abysmally pretentious bit of fiction (The Luminaries), it would seem, has been deemed a beloved daughter of Canada, and her work pre-eminent. My review of her novel is here.

Eleanor Catton

The decision of this year's GG jurors is simply incomprehensible when the list of the other nominees is considered, most especially Joseph Boyden and his novel, The Orenda. Why it is Boyden's novel should have been overlooked is mystifying. Artistically considered it is a superior work, in my opinion. Culturally it is a scintillating lens on Canadian history and concerns, written by a man who is quintessentially Canadian.

Boyden was born in Willowdale, Ontario, educated in Canada, has lived most of his life in Canada, and now divides his time between Louisiana, United States, where he is a writer in residence, and northern Ontario. He writes Canadian stories, about Canadian people, primarily First Nations. My review of his novel, The Orenda, is here.

Joseph Boyden

So how did the GG jurors fail to recognize any of that?

For what it's worth, I urge all of you to give Catton's novel a pass, unless you like a little masochism. Instead, treat yourself to a truly Canadian writer, Joseph Boyden, and novel, The Orenda, that will illuminate, edify and linger hauntingly for years to come, and in this way support those who are entitled to call themselves Canadian.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Open complaint to College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

I have filed the following complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, and am making that complaint a matter of public record by posting it here on my blog.

NB: This post has been edited from the original letter, omitting names of the physicians.

re: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I first saw Dr. ------- October 7, 2013 as a new patient. Although very pleasant, from the outset it was clear Dr. ------- was determined to recommend not only outdated and ineffective practices regarding obesity, but cast into doubt the veracity of any of my statements.

The appointment was concluded, and I was told to book another for follow-up, which I did.

The second appointment took place on October 21. I was immediately informed this appointment was to be a complete physical, with an array of blood and urine tests to follow, none of which I had consented to undergo. I refused the physical, and obtained prescriptions for rampipril 10mg, and atenol 50mg, prescribed by my former physician for hypertension.

I made a third appointment which took place November 8, at which time Dr. ------- terminated our doctor/patient relationship.

Areas of Concern

No understanding of, or sympathy with, the dynamics of chronic pain

I deal with chronic pain from both osteoarthritis and sciatica.

Around 2007 I was treated by Dr. ------------ in ------- for osteoarthritis and sciatica, which resulted in long-term prescription of Tylenol 3, 30mg, to be taken as required, not to exceed six tablets/day. I usually only took 2 tablets before bed in order to dampen the pain enough and allow me to fall asleep.

In 2009, I was treated by Dr. ------------- for osteoarthritis, with the end result he prescribed 375mg naproxen twice daily in order to better address arthritis pain, with full knowledge of my hypertension and medication history. The result of that treatment resulted in a dramatic improvement in my quality of life.
I continued to take T3s when necessary at night, as Naproxen does not address nerve pain.

Upon my first visit with Dr. -------, he immediately told me to discontinue use of Naproxen because it can elevate blood pressure. I asked how I was to deal with the pain of arthritis, and he had no answer, and instead discussed obesity. I subsequently refused to discontinue use of naproxen, knowing without it my daily mobility and function is greatly impacted.

My third visit to Dr. -------was to refill my prescription for T3s, and to give him a copy of the medical report I’d received from Dr. ------------- regarding his diagnosis and treatment for my arthritis. At that time, I also gave Dr. -------a detailed chart of my daily food consumption, with daily blood pressure and pulse records, to prove his assertions of over-eating were erroneous, and that at home, in a stable, controlled environment, my blood pressure is within acceptable levels.

Dr. -------became quite incensed when he glanced at Dr. -------- report, and even further incensed when he read my daily record. When I then asked for a prescription renewal of T3s, he vehemently, even angrily, stated he would not prescribe narcotics. I asked how I was to manage sleep without pain relief. He stated I was already on naproxen. I pointed out naproxen addressed arthritis pain, but would not touch nerve pain from sciatica. It was then Dr. ------- tossed the reports back at me and stated our relationship is over.
It became clear to me that because I had refused to accept his path of treatment, and his dismissal of my chronic pain difficulties, that Dr. ------- would brook no questioning of his authority. A patient has a right to access an informed, understanding physician, without prejudice or bias. It is clear Dr. ------- is incapable of accepting a patient’s will, and is lacking in understanding in the area of treatment of chronic pain.

Adherence to outdated practices regarding obesity

During my first visit with Dr. -------, he naturally focused on the fact I am obese. Quite understandable. However, he immediately zeroed in on the highly questionable (and now under intense research and investigation) theory of thermodynamics, and made it clear he doubted my veracity when I asserted I do not over-eat, the fact I’m obese is not a matter of quality or quantity of food. I explained I have been either over-weight or obese all my life, that even on 600 calories a day and vigorous exercise I can still gain weight.
Because of his dismissal of my assertions, he then wished me to see a bariatric surgeon. I emphatically refused. He asked why, and I responded the research clearly indicates bariatric surgery is ineffective over the long term, quite outside of the enormous monetary consideration for treatment not covered by government health care, and often the equivalent in cost of a very expensive new vehicle. I was not prepared to mortgage my home for treatment clearly proven ineffective.

Dr. ------- then asked if I have difficulty sleeping, which I confirmed, adding pain was usually the reason. He ignored the latter and asked if I snored. I confirmed that from time to time I snore, especially when over-tired. He then asserted I snore because I’m obese, and he wished me to see a sleep therapist in order to address sleep apnea. He further asserted I’m obese because I snore (bit of circular thinking there), because if I wasn’t sleeping, I was eating. I made it clear I remained in bed and read when I couldn’t sleep, which he dismissed. Again, I refused to see a sleep therapist, because, quite frankly, by this time I suspected the snake oil was going to come out at any moment, you will please pardon the unprofessionalism of that statement.
I asked Dr. ------- if he had read any of the current research regarding obesity, in particular:
or if he’d read the fascinating research presented by Gary Taubes in: Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The answer to all of these was no. So, it was clear Dr. ------- was simply repeating outdated, ineffective, uninformed and sometimes dangerous medical practice, rather than pausing to consider the most recent research into this global problem.

Frankly, I’m weary beyond expression of doctors who simply will not listen to patients, who are not keeping current. And Dr. --------- dismissal of any of my statements was an expected and disappointing repeat.

No respect for patient’s wishes

After these three visits to Dr. -------, and his subsequent refusal to treat me, it is clear he will brook no disagreement with his authority, his opinion, or his theories. I am tired of being poked and prodded for tests which will come back negative. I am tired of doctors looking for diseases which I don’t have. I am tired of doctors looking at me like I’m a revenue generator. And I’m tired of doctors calling me a liar, albeit in very politic and polite terms.

It is clear Dr. -------is no exception from what has become the norm in the paradigm of medicine. When the Hippocratic oath was replaced with imperative of profit and business, patient care went out the window. I imagine if I had been like so many other patients, and particularly female patients, and simply accepted his statements as truths, never questioned, never bothered to research my own health and conditions, I would still be under his care. But I’m not. And despite the fact I am once again without a physician, there is a relief, also, that comes with knowing I won’t have to deal with someone so autocratic and ignorant.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

The LuminariesThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've often said art is subjective. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, is certainly a prime example of that adage. Winner of the Booker Prize for 2013, lauded, praised, esteemed by critics and readers alike, I was prepared for this literary whodunnit to amaze and delight. Unfortunately, for me, I felt like the child in the Emperor's New Clothes fable, pointing at Catton's naked majesty while others apparently better informed praised their mighty leader for the beauty of her raiment.

So, then, what was it that failed to impress? Certainly the concept of carrying the plot through multiple characters with an unreliable narrator's voice is a known, respected and often brilliant literary device. Sequencing back and forth through time periods is also a respected and often brilliant literary device. Using astrological charts to preface every section of the novel was a touch of ingenuity, albeit one lost on a reader unfamiliar with the nuances and language of astrology. Including phrases of Cantonese and Maori is also laudable, were it not for the fact there was no contextual reference to give weight and meaning to the phrases so that they became nothing more than white noise.

The execution of many of these devices was, in my opinion, clumsily handled. The leaping around through time sequences often left me confused, in that there was rarely any linear progression to these sequences, so that one was unsure if we were in 1864, or 1857, or whenever.

The constant recapping of events ended up reading very much like a modern reality TV show, wherein we are told over and over again after each commercial break of disaster past or pending. For the first half of the novel we are endlessly regaled with this person's experience of a particular event and relationship to a particular background character, only to be followed by another chapter from a different person's perspective, and so on, and so forth for about twelve chapters. After about the third viewpoint I'm afraid I started to go a bit tharn, much like one of Richard Adam's unwitting bunnies.

Character development ended up feeling somewhat flat because of the cool distance of the voice of the unreliable narrator, and sometimes I had to wonder if Catton was in fact attempting to write farce instead of an historical mystery.

Catton chooses to open each chapter with a 19th century literary device by way of a synopsis of what is about to unfold, which is fine, up to a point, which I will reference later.

The denouement, which occurs somewhere around the two thirds mark, ended without resolution because although court sentence is passed upon villainous and guilty parties, we never really are given a complete resolution of the mystery, or what is to happen as a result, and instead the latter third of the novel again transports the reader to various, disparate points in the past.

And here we return again to the synopsis which prefaces each chapter, in that in those last chapter the synopses, which employ run-on sentences and breathless writing, end up becoming the narrative or story, with the actual events of the chapter little more than a few paragraphs of some almost irrelevant vignette. And these chapters hurtle on in a race, almost as if Catton wished done with the novel, to the point of being little more than drafts.

The last chapter is astonishing, with its verbose synopsis and sudden end of the novel through a declaration of one lover to another that she can hear the rain, something apparently extraordinary in New Zealand which has been portrayed as very wet, with near constant rain. One might better declare she can see the sun, that she is transported by the light, because certainly the novel failed any kind of transport of the imagination, and, instead, very much called to mind one reviewer's comment that The Luminaries was a big box full of nothing.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden

The OrendaThe Orenda by Joseph Boyden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply put, Joseph Boyden's The Orenda is a timeless and imperative read for every Canadian. Even if you're not Canadian, you should read this novel. It will edify, illuminate, shatter, and complete your understanding of society during 17th century First Nations and European first contact. That The Orenda did not make the short list for either the Giller or the GG is quite incomprehensible. If ever there were a novel, and an author, worthy of our attention, our praise, and our accolades, it is The Orenda and Joseph Boyden.

Quite beyond The Orenda's importance in the canon of Canadian literature, it is a compelling read. (And for me one near and dear to my heart, given my own short story, And the Angels Sang, which formed the keystone story for my collection by the same name.)

Boyden tells the story of the Iroquoian pogrom against the Wyandot (Huron) peoples, which culminated in the destruction of the Jesuit mission at Ste. Marie among the Hurons in present day Midland, and the legendary torture and execution of St. Jean de Brebeuf.

While Boyden chooses fictional names for the people involved in this historic occurrence, the historical integrity and framework remains.

The story itself is told in first person, present-tense narratives through three voices, that of Snow Falls, an Iroquoian girl orphaned and captured by a Huron warrior; that of Bird, the warrior responsible for Snow Falls' plight and who subsequently adopts her; and Father Christophe, the Jesuit, or Crow, who comes among the Huron to bring his version of redemption and salvation to the sauvages.

Boyden sculpts these characters with a deft hand, so they are fully realized, living entities with voices so strong they haunt your thoughts. There is no confusion when progressing chapter to chapter who speaks, a feat not easily accomplished unless at the hand of a confident writer.

The pacing is brisk, tense, never flagging, and even if a reader weren't aware of the history about which Boyden writes, there would be a sense of drums thundering beneath the text, of doom echoing through the forests.

All of these components are fused together with Boyden's trademark style, employing spare language, each word chosen for precise impact. This is a lean story which is, in contrast, defiantly rich and satiating.

Whether you choose to immerse yourself in The Orenda by way of eBook or print, I assure you these hours you spend reading will be profound and memorable.

Bravo, Joseph. Miigwech.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George

The Memoirs Of CleopatraThe Memoirs Of Cleopatra by Margaret George
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To pick up a Margaret George novel is to experience a well-researched epic work. The Memoirs of Cleopatra is no exception.

George presents a very intimate story of the legendary Cleopatra, who took a bankrupt, teetering country to its pinnacle of wealth, prosperity and influence, despite overwhelming setbacks and obstacles.

My only quibble, as always with George's work, is a certain reservation in the depth of her characters which she tends to move around on the board of her story like set pieces.

Beyond that, an absorbing read.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Response to Liz Bourke at Strange Horizons

Normally when a negative review (which thankfully are few) for one of my books appears I just shrug. We all have different aesthetics, points of view, something the Internet has allowed us to share through social media.

So it was when I raised the very public hackles of Liz Bourke, reviewer for Strange Horizons, I merely allowed Ms. Bourke her opinion about my novel From Mountains of Ice and carried on.

It would seem, however, her review garnered the notice of another blogger at Pornokitsch, under the heading of Extremist Reviewing. The author of Pornokitsch found great humour in Liz Bourke's evisceration (the author's term, not mine) of my novel, enough to Tweet and generally share around the multiverse. That, also, is fine. Again, we all must find humour, entertainment, and share opinion in order to expand our horizons and understanding of life.

One of Ms. Bourke's strident objections read thusly:
But the first and perhaps the most severe of my problems with From Mountains of Ice is its lack of willingness to abide by the usual conventions of English-language punctuation. Particularly where it comes to commas.
a fluid list of titles and salutations, professions of greatest love and longing, veiled accusations of betrayal through Sylvio's absence, enforced though it might have been, earnest wishes to redress absence. Just the fact Carmelo singled him out was fraught with potential, none of it with hope. (p. 75)
Phrases, especially descriptive phrases, come tacked together with commas when it would be more comprehensible (and less horribly irritating) to use more than one sentence. Several sentences have more commas than they need. Several suffer from a mysterious dearth of commas, where a comma would have added to comprehensibility or to the ordinary flow of prose.
Carried by the outgoing tide they'd be swept out to sea, just as she. (p. 107)
Having laid that foundation, I would therefore entreat both Ms. Bourke and her followers to consider the following passage:
Also — for there had been more than a few migrants aboard, yes, quite a quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about the length of and distinguishing moles upon their husbands’ genitalia, a sufficiency of children upon whose legitimacy the British Government had cast its ever-reasonable doubts — mingling with the remnants of the plain, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belong, home.
The author of this passage is guilty, according to conventional wisdom, of egregious writing abuse. I remember clearly reading this passage a few years ago, and those which came before, and after, and the whole dizzying effect of this tumbling narrative. I sat stunned after closing the novel, aware I looked into the face of genius for the second time in my life. Suddenly all I had been taught meant nothing confronted with this monumental art.

I hear your disparagement even now. What kack, Lorina, you say. This is a run-on sentence, incomprehensible, nonsensical. Tripe, to be polite. Unmitigated shite if not.

So? Ah yes so.

The author: Salman Rushdie. The work: The Satanic Verses.

Something to give you pause, eh? A slight blush. Perhaps an ahem or two? I know the feeling.

Now, far be it from me to compare my work to Salman Rushdie's. But there is inspiration here. There is a great deal to study, to comprehend, to emulate. Think about the artistic and emotional effect of that passage by Rushdie.

It has long been said in order to create art you need to understand the rules. And then you need to understand how to break the rules.

And just as that work of art may not be everyone's taste, before slagging it, consider your own biases as a reviewer, whether you're reviewing painting, sculpture, music or literature. This is something I try to remember when I review literature. A review should not be a wholesale condemnation of the worth of a thing. A review is, and only ever will be, one person's opinion. Your trash may be someone else's treasure.

Just saying.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Aiming the pistol at the foot

Despite all my bluster chivvying authors into brave faces, preaching that the un-achievable is attainable, when it comes to my own career as an author I tend to shrink back into the shadows. I have no idea why I do that. But I do. Always have. Call it a character flaw.

However, every now and again I emerge from my cave, or shell, or whatever, and decide, HEY! I can DO THIS! And I summon courage and analyze stories and send out submissions to magazines, collections and the like, keeping careful log of their journeys through an Excel spreadsheet (yes, yes, I know all about Obsessive Compulsion Disorder.)

The current attempt to shoot off my feet comes in the form of the call for submissions for the Tesseracts 18 anthology. I've been trying to break that market ever since Judy Merrill first launched it way back. No joy. And I doubt very much there will be joy this time, but the point is I've at least tried.

Lester B. Pearson, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, once said: The only failures are those who fail to try.

Hon. Lester B. Pearson

So Lester, ol' bean, old sport, I'm trying. I don't hold out much hope. But to the best of my knowledge I've targeted the right story for the right market.

Of course, this comes on the heels of finding out all the primary round of rejections for the Fearful Symmetries anthology have taken place, and the remaining 355 stories are either still being considered, or have now been forwarded to editor, Ellen Datlow. In this case, no news is good news.

Now, there is a synchronicity about the fact I haven't heard thing one as yet regarding my submission to that heady anthology, because back in the day when Omni was the nirvana of short speculative fiction (I was at Clarion the year Ted Chiang made his first short story sale with the first short story he'd ever written, which was to none other than Ellen Datlow at Omni) I had dreams of maybe, one day, breaking into that market, of having someone like Ellen Datlow pat me on the head and reward my closet scribblings with publication. Alas, it never happened.

Ellen Datlow

But here the gyre curves round again, and I find myself in six degrees of separation.

Dear god, there are days I truly wonder why I do this? Why do I peck at the keyboard, dreaming dreams of people and places, of hurt and triumph, of destinies and deeds? Why answer the sibilant whispers in my head who constantly narrate stories for which I am but a vehicle? I don't know.

But somewhere between editing other authors' stories, creating print layouts, rounds of meetings and discussions and all the trappings of being a publisher, I still pursue this calling of being a story-teller. Keep writing. Just keep writing. And the foot? Ack. It will heal.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: The Polaris Whisper, by Kenneth Gregory

The Polaris WhisperThe Polaris Whisper by Kenneth Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally a Wattpad publication, The Polaris Whisper, by Kenneth Gregory appears to be a self-published book through the services of The Black Staff Press. I received a PDF copy of Gregory's debut novel through Black Staff on Net Galley.

The novel has all the potential of a truly great novel: great subject matter, interesting characters, a delicious melange of history and mythology. Set during the Dark Ages (the early to mid 1st century) amid Norse raids on Ireland, Iona, and England, the story follows the lives of a disinherited and exiled Norseman, Vidar, the son he places into foster care for protection, and the people (including a dwarf from a society with prescient talent) who form his association. The main thrust of this, the first of a planned series of novels, is Vidar's quest to find a glacial cave which is a portal. A portal to what, we never find out, but the dwarf who charges Vidar with this quest has invested considerable wealth and his life into the undertaking.

There are intrigues and loves lost and found, betrayal of friendship, tests of courage.

And while all of this has, as I wrote, the potential of a great novel, it falls short for all the same reasons so many novels fall short: lack of a good developmental editor. Along with the need for a developmental editor is the need for a good copy editor, as there were many punctuation errors as well as errors in word usage. Certainly were I Gregory, and if my supposition is correct that he paid Black Staff to publish his book, I'd be a mite miffed with the lack of quality services.

A decent entry, in my opinion, enough that I'd entertain reading the next instalment. However, let us hope Gregory undertakes to surround himself with more qualified editors.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Guarding your time

I have freelanced most of my adult life as a writer, journalist, editor, artist, and during those near 40 years it has always amazed me how people generally have no concept of how hard a self-employed person works from home. There seems to be the assumption we can simply swan off whenever we like.

Well, that is true in part. Those of us who work from our home offices are at liberty to call our own hours, set our own dress codes, take breaks whenever we like. However, without a certain discipline nothing gets done. So that means if it's summer, and you'd rather be in the garden than editing a manuscript, well, you better bloody well get that manuscript edited cause it surely isn't going to edit itself. And fail to do so will likely mean you'll piss off your client, your author, your colleagues, which then means no payment at the end of all that labour. The garden will still be there.

Same applies if you're working on a painting for an upcoming exhibit or client, or writing an article for a periodical, or putting together a website for a new or existing business owner. If you work from home, the work comes first. The play comes later.

Sure, we take time out to take a walk and clear the head, to ride a bike along a difficult trail in order to nurture the body to nurture the mind. We allow ourselves 10 minutes to blast away at Mah Jong, or alien invaders. We wander aimlessly, favourite beverage to hand in order to escape the office chair.

But we do return, again and again throughout the day, often putting in longer days than our colleagues who commute to an office and punch 9-5.

We don't have time to chat on the phone, answer text messages, email, phaff about on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Because we work at home we have relinquished a certain amount of freedom in order to gain a certain freedom. We have embraced discipline and order and routine. We have eschewed the indulgence of long lunches, shopping sprees, and Internet browsing at the expense of our employer. Why? Because we are our own employers, and it turns out we're harder task masters than the bosses we left behind.

So, for those of you calling for a chat, thinking I'm out in the garden on this lovely summer's day, or are touring the area and thought to stop in for an impromptu visit -- lovely thought, but sorry, I'm working. Would be pleased to make a date, schedule you in. But right now, don't have time. Have to guard my time.

And that's just the way it is.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Michael R. Fletcher, author 88 reviews Shadow Song on Goodreads

's review 
Aug 28, 13

Read from August 20 to 27, 2013

Historical fiction is not my usual reading material; I tend more towards SF/F and rarely wander from those genres. I did not expect a story written from (initially) a very young female character's POV to hook me. Once I started, however, I had trouble putting it down. The writing is absolutely gorgeous. How Lorina Stephens achieved such beautiful language and yet still managed to keep it unobtrusive is a mystery.

Fans of historical fiction should definitely give this a read.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: The High Road, by Terry Fallis

The High RoadThe High Road by Terry Fallis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It simply kills me to give Terry Fallis' comic sequel, The High Road two stars. Throughout the entire reading, and subsequent post-deliberation, I kept wondering why it was did I not only find Fallis' humour lacking, but sometimes outright condescending, and what was it about the story arc left me feeling as though I needed a real, fully-balanced meal instead of some meal replacement drink.

We again spend time with many of the main characters to whom Fallis introduced us in The Best Laid Plans. They walk on and off stage without much further development, little by way of evolution, and so Fallis leaves the interest and momentum of the novel to the plot. Which is perfectly fine. The plot, however, again looks vaguely familiar, with another unlikely campaign and election happening, the usual bout of falling on ice (instead of dog droppings), misadventures and misdemeanours. It's all rather deus ex machina.

The humour, however, devolves much in the way Canadian parliamentary procedure and decorum has devolved, smacking somehow of insincerity, self-service, and partisan posturing. This go round humour comes at the expense of anything or anyone ill-fitted to white male, middle-class, liberal privilege. The two keen youths, endearingly monickered Pete1 and Pete2, are ridiculed for architectural and colourful hair, body art, as well as artistic expression in their clothing choices. Fat people are shoved into stereotypes and ridiculed. Middle-aged women are likewise labelled. After awhile the entire slap-stick, heavy-handed humour wears thin to the point I kept listening for the percussive ba-doom-ching of the vaudeville band.

Along with what is, in my opinion, failed humour, is a condescension by way of education and literacy which in itself became humorous, simply because our erstwhile hero, Angus McLintock, on his way to correcting the abuse of the English language to any who dare speak, was foiled by poor copy-editing and proof-reading. There were many instances of a missing comma in dialogue, or a mis-spelling. Normally I would simply read over these omissions and forgive them as the foibles of human nature. But when you have a main character painstakingly particular about correct grammar and punctuating skills, well, you had better bloody well be sure the grammar and punctuation is perfect. Terry, your self-published first novel was better-edited than this sequel, I'm sorry to say.

All considered, a disappointing sequel to what had been a brilliant debut.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese

Indian HorseIndian Horse by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A CBC Canada Reads book, top 100 Globe and Mail listed, critically acclaimed, much discussed, Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse is deserving not only of accolades but your time. This is simply an excellent, fundamentally Canadian novel, beautifully and sparingly written, with grace, poise, banked passion and heartbreaking insight.

Although a work of fiction, Wagamese draws from the lives of people he has known and lost, and because of that resonates with much earlier works by other great authors who wrote about similar struggles: John Howard Griffin's seminal work, Black Like Me, and even the now classic novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wagamese tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, from happy Ojibway boy in Canada's bush, to bitter urban man who is flotsam in the wreckage created by white oppression, residential school brutality and hypocritical Canadian society. But this is also a story of discovery, of hope, of healing. And should be required reading for every individual in this nation.

Much of Saul's insight and struggle revolves around the boon and bane of hockey, which in essence becomes a metaphor for his life. His triumphs on the ice are the triumphs of his soul. His defeats and destruction at the hands of players and fans is his defeat in residential school, the logging camps and mines. The epiphany and vision he finds in hockey, is the epiphany and vision he finds for his own life. One universe coexists in tandem with the other. And all of this told in a highly readable and compelling manner.

If you haven't already read Indian Horse I urge you to go out right now and purchase a copy.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music (Discworld, #16)Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We return to Death in this Discworld edition, by Terry Pratchett, which is a re-examination of the hell-spawned musical instrument, and a spoof on rock and roll.

Light-hearted, undemanding, there are some moments of chuckling, and generally entertaining escapism.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the GreatThe Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak is an absorbing, well-written read, spare on embellishment, indicating an author sure of her craft and subject.

The story chronicles the rise of Catherine the Great of Russia through a subsidiary character, that of a young woman adopted into the intrigues and espionage of the Russian court. Throughout the narrative Stachniak, an Amazon Canada First Novel Award Winner in 2000, weaves an intimate knowledge of environment and impeccably researched historical detail.

This is an excellent read.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms (Discworld, #15)Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this Discworld instalment we return to The Watch, Captain Vimes, Corporal Carrot, and a host of other familiar and new characters.

As always Pratchett demonstrates his ease as a story-teller, married closely to wit, madcap humour and endearing moments. While not as many outright guffaws in this yarn about gun (or gonne) control, multiculturalism and destiny, certainly there is an abundance of escapism, heroism and whodunnits.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14)Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett, is an outright giggle-fest. Can't remember the last time I laughed so much while reading -- certainly not a book conducive to inducing somnolence.

We returns to the witches of Discworld, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat who is about to become Queen Magrat and finds herself in an identity crisis and bored to distraction. Boredom on Discworld, however, is never lasting ailment as proven by an attempting invasion by the Sidhe.

Full of screamingly funny romance, Pratchett's deft ability as a story-teller, with a touch of social consciousness thrown in. A great summer, or anytime, read.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Season of the Rainbirds, by Nadeem Aslam

Season of the RainbirdsSeason of the Rainbirds by Nadeem Aslam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Season of the Rainbirds was Nadeem Aslam's debut novel, first published in 1993, and a dramatic, well-crafted novel it is, taking two literary awards, the Betty Trask and the Author's Club First Novel Award.

There is an understated control to Aslam's narrative, chronicling the murder of a corrupt Pakistani judge and the seemingly unrelated discovery of missing postal bags of letters from a train crash 19 years earlier.

Within this mystery are two men, one spiritual, one investigative, charged with the protection of the village. Through their stories and their struggles, Aslam reveals the ambiguities of the interpretation of temporal and spiritual laws, of well-meaning perpetuation of ignorance, and the hopelessness of achieving any form of clarity or meaningful justice.

Not unlike Rohinton Mistry in style, Aslam's adept use of understatement and simplicity serve as counterpoint to a complex social order and society. There are no simple answers. The world is shaded in grey, despite attempts by leaders to clearly define and categorize a repressive regime and social system. And Aslam's use of evocative yet simple language and metaphor serve as deft strokes of shading and colour for the reader, creating an unforgettable yet bewildering image.

Recommended reading.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Above, by Leah Bobet

AboveAbove by Leah Bobet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Above, by Canadian author Leah Bobet, is a truly well-crafted novel, written by an author clearly comfortable with voice, language and imagery. In this dark, modern fairy tale Bobet writes from a very difficult point of view, yet manages to sustain tension that leaves the reader flayed. Her pace and the emotional impact of that pace is relentless. Not an easy read, not a novel you'd wish to pick up for a quick escape into something creamy, dreamy and fluffy, yet Above is very much worthy of your time and attention.

Overall the story deals with the story of Matthew, the story-keeper of a Torontonian underground society, and his tragic love of one of his fellow mutants, Ariel. But to summarize Bobet's tale by calling it a love story is to describe the Mona Lisa as a portrait. Just like the dystopian Toronto she creates, the story has layers upon layers. It is primarily a dark fantasy, yes. But it is also an indictment of barbaric psychiatric practices, of society's inability to deal with the homeless, with the estranged, with the strange. It is a social commentary written with adroitness and insight, and all done with an accomplished story-teller's art.

My only quibble, and it is a middling one, is the classification under which the publisher chose to list the book: young adult. While I can understand the reasoning behind that decision, I also cannot help but feel it was one chosen as an expedience, rather than a true understanding of Bobet's work and its impact. The tale is so dark, and the writing so at the edge of avant guard, that the novel might gain wider and better recognition under an adult classification.

But, as I mentioned, I quibble.

Certainly Bobet's novel is one worth your time. Recommended.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Worthy of winning the 2013 Prix Aurora

Food for the GodsFood for the Gods by Karen Dudley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short-listed for the 2013 Prix Aurora, Food for the Gods ticks all the boxes: It's impeccably researched, craftily written, with wit, humour, screamingly funny but believable characters and a rocketing good pace.

Dudley unfolds the story of Peplos, a put-upon murdered-but-resurrected son of the King of Lydia (a king, it should be noted, who fancied serving up an economical stew-of-son to his guests), who now attempts to make his way in Athens as, what else, a celebrity chef. What follows is a mad-cap and yet endearing escapade of villainous acts, interfering but well-meaning gods, who-dunnits and a love-story to boot. And Dudley carries this all off with a ridiculously deft hand, never missing a beat. Truly, I didn't want the story to end, and never once had a moment of flagging interest.

Published by Canadian indie press, Ravenstone, Food for the Gods is a shining example of the kind of genius and excellence that can result from small, independent press. If you're looking for an intelligent bit of escapism, Food for the Gods is your ticket.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: The Blind Man's Garden, by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's GardenThe Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A deftly and sensitively written novel, set in contemporary Pakistan and Afghanistan, which examines the pressures, complexities and ambiguities of both political and religious issues.

Aslam could have so easily succumbed to stridency and pontification about the Taliban and extremism whether Islamic or Western, and instead delivered an exquisitely heartbreaking story about being human, about what we will endure in the name of love, and about the irrelevance of human life in the face of absolutism. His writing, while subtle and lyrical, never meanders into purple prose, and instead weaves both character and environmental description into a seamless narrative that never flags or become ponderous. His characters are fully realized, lifting off the pages to inhabit the reader's world as living, breathing entities. His story lingers long after reading.

This is a novel to which I will return again and again, each time finding pleasure in the subtle tragedy Aslam reveals. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: Travels in Elysium, by William Azuski

Travels in ElysiumTravels in Elysium by William Azuski
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Despite glowing Kirkus and reader reviews, I'd have to say Azuski's Travels In Elysium is a poorly researched, inconsistently written novel.

The story ostensibly revolves around a young man, Pedrosa, who takes up the position of a lifetime, to work with the legendary archaeologist Huxley, on a dig of epic proportions.

And that's where everything goes badly wrong, from a research point of view. Azuski presents a lost Atlantis as the foundation of his story, set in the Greek Islands, completely overlooking the research and news of 2011 which alleges to have found the lost city of Atlantis in an environmentally protected swamp in the south of Spain.

Further, Azuski's knowledge of archaeological technologies and procedures is naive, bordering on Indiana Jones gonzo exploration, so that characters are bulldozing, drilling and hacking away with glee through meters of ancient ash and lava without a clue as to whether their digging will produce any hope of finds. There is no use of geophysics technology, no radar, no sonar, no magnetic sweeps, nothing. Just frantic and erratic digging which sweeps away all the earlier layers of history and dumps them into the sea in the quest to find the lost city.

Then couple that with the fact the characters in the novel are digging on an active volcano, with poisonous gas leaks through vents in various unearthed buildings, and the entire credibility of the story falls apart. People are hallucinating on toxic fumes, experiencing metaphysical journeys to the Isles of the Blessed, when in fact they'd be falling into coma and dying.

Later, when the volcano finally begins an eruption, people are walking around through volcanic ash falling so heavily it's like snow. Again, Azuski demonstrates a complete lack of regard for any type of research, so that there are no ill effects whatever from these volcanic ashfalls. No one is burned. Everyone breathes perfectly fine in the shadow of the volcano. Boats at anchor experience no difficulty with being top heavy because of ash and pumice accumulating aboard.

As to the writing itself, although Azuski demonstrates evocative phraseology, his use of tense often shoots off in inconsistent directions, so that within one paragraph we're reading a narrative in past tense, then present tense, and back again.

Apparently the author has a penchant for fishing, because there are so many red herrings used in the first half to two thirds of this overly long novel, that the reader after awhile is ready to give up. First there is an allusion to vampires. Which turns out to be nothing. Then there's an allusion to a return-from-death cult which may have the privileged and decadent scrambling to inhabit both the temporal and metaphysical city being unearthed. And that fizzles. Then we have political unrest and thuggery, which fizzles. Then we have paparazzi swarming for a scoop on illegal export of priceless artifacts. And that slides off the pages. An addiction to staring blankly into the beyond within a certain temple in which people allegedly experience the metaphysical and live alternative lives. Which turns out to be gassing, which should have in fact meant death. And then, and then, and then....

Until the very end in which Azuski pulls the most amateur and novice stunt of all: it's all a coma-induced dream of the protagonist, Pedrosa.

Over six hundred pages. And it's all a dream.

What Azuski really needed was a developmental editor, someone to say get rid of the smelly fish, cut this novel in half, stick to a plot and revise, revise, revise.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Story genesis and writing environmental detail

Recently a dear friend and colleague (Robert Runte) and I were discussing the craft of writing, which happened concurrently with a similar discussion I was having with my husband, Gary. In particular we discussed story genesis, and how to create meaningful environment detail and description in literature.

For example, I mentioned to Robert a story on which I'm presently working, that all I had so far was mood (eeriness) and one element (an owl). He wondered how I could start with two such nebulous concepts, rather than a solid character and an event, as example, and mentioned I must feel my way through stories rather than plot.

I had to think about that for a moment, and realized that indeed I sort of feel, yes, but more think.

For me, thinking about mood/emotion gives order and reason to chaos, and I suppose is a subliminal underlying theme in much of my writing. Reason over passion. Being aware of the effect of environment and cause, and reasoning your way to logical and beneficial effect. So it is a writer can come up with two concepts -- eeriness and an owl -- and from that shape a story. Those concepts set up a chain of thought processes: Why is the ambient mood eerie? Is there something metaphysical happening? Is there an impending storm? Is it the call of the owl? That can certainly be eerie. So, yes, the eeriness will derive from the mythology around owls (greatly undeserved given they are known to be as dumb as doorknobs). So given they are not clever birds, why eerie? They are known to be near-silent flyers, powerful. They have an ability to echo-locate and so navigate dense woods with ease. They have those strange rotating heads, which can raise the hairs on your arms with ease. Their calls are often heard during the twilight hours, which has always held a mystique in the human psyche.

And so it goes. You can see how a story can build from these elements. It's like germinating seeds. Before you know it you have a garden, which is your story.

Which then brings us to environment detail. I'd never thought about how I write environmental detail until both Gary and Robert queried me regarding that process. The only meaningful metaphor I came up with was that it's like echo-location, to borrow from my owl-friend. You are the centre of your universe, so all you know and do is based upon the data you pick up from environment. In order for the reader to understand the character, it is necessary to use echo-location in order for the reader to understand the character's place in that environment. 

Robert in particular has had an interest in a specific passage in my novel, From Mountains of Ice. 

He heard whispers, dry and chittering, looked up sharply into the dust and gloom of the warehouse. Only the scuttle of a mouse. In the distance a horse whickered, followed by the firm but gentle command of an ostler. A burst of laughter then, plainly from the traders viewing Danuto's horses. Whispers again beneath his hand, fading like a breeze lost in leaves. A swallow swooped along the vaulted ceiling, blade-like wings almost silent. Almost. Like the voices in the boxes beneath his hand.

In the scene above, we start with two points: Sylvio, and the fact he needs to think, which prefaces the quoted paragraph. As a result of the fact the main protagonist needs to think, he's in the warehouse, taking time out, but he's still very much connected to his environment by virtue of the fact he's a living, breathing human being, and in order for the reader to get into Sylvio's head, the reader has to be aware of what he's experiencing. 

So, just as you or I would do in real life, I describe that environment in writing not through slavish and sterile descriptions that are like an inventory, but through his own sensory awareness, his own echo-location, if you will. Thus he looks up both physically and through his senses from his thoughts, from that myopic state of both inner and within arm's reach environment, and receives input, information: a sound which turns out to be a mouse, out further to the light beyond where he stands, which takes his senses out to the courtyard where there are horses, becomes aware of the movement and sounds there (you see how the sensory waves are pooling out?), and then, because his vision and hearing have reached their limits, pulls back, like a receding wave to the point of origin, himself and the box on which his hand rests, to the immediate pressure and concern that has brought him to the warehouse in the first place, and so hears what no one else can, the voices of the dead in the box of bows under his hand. Echo-location. And now the reader has a better understanding of what's going on not only in the world around Sylvio, but his inner world.

I did a similar thing in the opening paragraph of my novel, Shadow Song: 
I remember the summer I met Shadow Song was so green it hurt my eyes. It was as if the world were carved from jade – something sacred and equally fragile. I, Danielle Michelle Fleming, was to become mesmerized by this world. This land, this Upper Canada, was a place where I would learn to breathe.
Although I'm not dealing with specific environmental detail, I have immediately established what is to be the tone, place and environment of the novel. We know right off the novel is named for a person who will have a significant influence on the main protagonist. Why? Because he is named immediately, given pre-eminence. We know it's going to be a land that's verdant because of the import of the colour green. We also know that environment is somehow going to cause hurt or harm to Danielle because of the fact the colour hurts her eyes, that perhaps there is bane in bounty, and that no good deed goes unpunished, or that perhaps the yin/yang factor is going to come into play. Whichever it is, the reader is immediately set up for possible tragedy. We know this world is going to be precious to her, and also fragile, and because she is writing these things in past tense that the story is going to be a memoir of something once precious now broken and lost. We also know that despite pain, Danielle will fall in love and under the spell of such bounty. We are also given a glimpse into her history by the simple mention that she would learn to breathe in this new world, indicating her life until then has been suffocating, perhaps restrictive. 

That's a lot of information to pack into 54 words.

You will notice in both passages I've refrained from giving measurements, cataloguing specifics. By doing so I've still created environment, but also allowed the reader interface, allowed their imaginations to paint in the colour around the lines I've sketched in. I've established a dialogue, and by doing so have invested the reader in the story. 

Equally, I've also sustained or established tension and the momentum of the plot, preventing the reader from closing the novel, perhaps permanently.

Certainly I cannot claim invention of this technique. It is used with ease by some of the great masters of literature. The first time I became aware of it was as an adolescent of 14,when I read Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles. I realized how well Hardy married environment to mood and character, that one was shaped and fed by the other. Later I found the same technique used in Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, in particular one of the first passages in which she describes Ofglen walking along a sidewalk, stepping over worms that have risen in the rain, how they look like bloated lips. In that moment I knew this was going to be a story about love and sexuality gone horribly wrong, and I was cognizant of the deftness of writing that allowed Ofglen's inner world to bleed out into her environment, so that what she saw was a reflection of her inner thought process.

Candas Jane Dorsey, Rohinton Mistry, Joseph Boyden, Caitlin Sweet and many other writers whose work I study and admire employ this sort of echo-location and environmental detail.

How to employ that technique yourself? Try meditating in an environment of your own and practice that sort of echo-location. Start with your inner world, the sound of your heart, your breathing, allow your senses to swim out. What do you perceive next, second, third, and at what point do you return to the self and the origin of your thoughts? And how does your inner world affect your perception and reception of the outer world? It's amazing how the same environment can be described differently depending on mood and personal stresses both physical and emotional.

In a way it boils down to what I'm always advising writers when I edit their work: BE YOUR CHARACTER. Allow yourself to get inside their head and then write the story as if you were them. Do that, and you'll refrain from telling your reader a room is 20' x 39', made of dressed stone. Instead you'll describe how your character feels the chill of the room, wishing there were tapestries on the stone walls to temper their grey and harsh welcome, how in a room of this size the fireplace and the fire in it are miserly, not even room for an inglenook in which to sit and dispel the dampness.

To put it simply, open your senses. If you're going to be a writer, you have to be a conduit for not only the temporal world, but the metaphysical world you're creating.