My Forty K Challenge

A while back, a famous local artist came to me with a challenge. Write a story about one of their artworks. More than one actually.  Anything I wanted.

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. They were doing a portfolio, fifty or sixty pieces of art, full of surreal images and scenes, glimpses into a strange otherworld, both Buck Rogers and profoundly abstract. Here were the rules of the game.

There would be four writers, working independently:

  1. Write stories about the artworks and the artworks only.
  2. No cheating, no going by artwork titles, or by the artists sequence, no asking the artist, no talking to each other, no inside knowledge, outside knowledge, nothing.
  3. No limits – write about as many or as few pieces of art as you wanted. Write as much or as little as you wanted, for each artwork and for the whole. Write anything you wanted. You could write a hundred words on a single drawing, or a hundred thousand words on all of them. Write it any way you wanted.
  4. In six months, send it in.

That sounded like a blast. It was definitely working without a net. Of course I said yes.

So here I am, a week ahead of schedule, and I’ve delivered – thirty stories and forty thousand words.

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2021 – My Writers Year in Review

Well, so much for 2021. I thought I’d step back and take stock, do a year in review in terms of my career as a writer, or as an attempted writer.

The Bottom line:

All titles collected, I sold almost a thousand books this year, and legitimately made more money as a writer than I’ve ever done in my life. I released three new books this year: LEXX Unauthorized, Little Blue Marble; Axis of Andes and New World War. I had two more books almost ready to go, but couldn’t quite get the right artwork for the cover. In terms of unpublished new work wrote another novel and several short stories. Published a story in Wild Hunt Press’s anthology, Duel of the Monsters. Altogether, I think I wrote about half a million words.

I was recognized and certified as an Artist for purposes of Canada Council and Manitoba Arts Council, which will allow me to apply for grants. I did three Workshops for the Manitoba Writers Guild and appeared on or presented panels for Keycon, When Words Collide and three panels for World Fantasy Convention Montreal, including a reading. Less successfully, I pitched a couple of novels to over fifty agents and a few publishers, no takers, but maybe a couple of nibbles.

All in all I think I can say I worked pretty hard at being a writer, all the while keeping the day job going. Is this bragging? I dunno. I remember something the late Lex Gigeroff said to me. “That’s a lot of work to put into such a mediocre career.”

I keep bashing my head against the wall, I’m not sure there’s a future in it. But I keep plugging away. You take your small victories when and where you can.

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When Words Collide: Writing Alternate Histories

Hi, just a quick note, I will be program participant, panelists, something at the Alberta Writers and Readers Festival, When Words Collide.

I’m doing Writing Alternate Histories, with Celeste Peters, R.J.M. Dawson and M.E. Powell, at 3:00 pm, on Friday, August  13, 2021.  This year the Festival is a free online event.

The Festival is huge running from Thursday, August 12 through to Sunday, August 15, 2021.  It’s an annual thing. Usually its held live in person, and it gets pretty booked up.  Having it online and free means it’s open to everyone.

This is amazing. 12 tracks of programming going on each hour. That’s 240 programming events, plus interactive stuff, pitch sessions, blue pencil sessions, workshops, you name it.  And it’s FREE.  So register and join.

WWC 2021 – Events/Festival_Program.php (whenwordscollide.org)

And in the future, if you’re a writer or reader that plans to find themselves in Calgary in August…  make plans to check it out.

And if you’re already attending, check out my panel!  As to Alternate History, I figure I’m qualified, between Axis of Andes, Bear Cavalry, Dawn of Cthulhu, The New Doctor and the Fall of Atlantis.

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Axis of Reviews!

Well, my two book series, Axis of Andes and New World War is out in the world, and astonishingly, it’s selling like hotcakes. And I’m getting reviews.  So in the vein of shameless self promotion, I just want to share some of them, starting with this gem:

Crusty Critic, on Amazon.  Reviewed in the United States on July 23, 2021
Professor Valdron Tells It Like It Might Have Been. 5.0 out of 5 stars
Frankly, this is the best alternate history (AH) book I have ever read, and I have read a lot, including those by the “famous” authors. It is not done in the usual AH cliched pattern, with “heroes” and “villains” and love interests. It is written the way you wish all the best history books should be, whether recounting Real History or AH.
That’s….  not bad at all. Maybe I should stop now.  Where would I go from that?
The rest if the brief review is quite complimentary as well.  Here’s another excerpt:
….like listening to a series of lectures by a favorite professor. You are astonished by his erudition, amused by his clear-eyed cynicism and way with words (e.g., his “explanation” of the true nature of fascism hits home in today’s US), and saddened by his depictions of racism, colonialism, and Big Power attitudes (none of which has gone away in our Real History)….
Okay, so what else?

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Amazon Hot List

Hey everyone!  Axis of Andes made the list.  We’re on “Hot New Releases in Alternate History Science Fiction

https://www.amazon.com/gp/new-releases/books/16275

Yay!!!!

More seriously? Yeah, #55 on the second page. Big whoop. Also note the rather narrow subject matter – a subgenre of a subgenre of speculative fiction

I promise you, it’s not going to my head.

On the other hand, I’ve actually sold a few books, and I’ve got a really good review. And filling out the list are powerhouse writers like Charles Stross, William Deitz, Ken Follet, S.M. Stirling.  And most of the books on the list are from the big six majors, or the medium level second tier publishers. And the list goes to a hundred books and I’m nowhere near the bottom.  So, it’s not bad..

So in the big scheme of things, maybe it’s not much ado. But it’s something, and it’s kind of nice. So I’m happy.

This is what being a writer is – mostly, you get rejected, or simply ignored, your effort to make a mark goes unremarked. And every now and then, you get a few crumbs like that.  You learn to appreciate them. And maybe make them last.

LEXX – The Thrill of the New

LEXX Unauthorized, the final volume!  The amazing behind the scenes chronicle of the most brilliantly surreal sci fi series ever made.  Twenty years in the making.  Releasing next week! Be sure to get your copy and don’t forget to buy the previous books.

I remember the first time I saw I Worship His Shadow.

Forgive me, I’m trying to promote the final book, so that means talking about it and the other books. But I’m coming to the end of my run with LEXX, this thing that’s shadowed me for twenty years, and I think that makes me contemplative.

So… the first time I saw I Worship His Shadow.

It was amazing. We kind of forget that sometimes. We are so awash in stories, in film and television, books and games, there’s only so many ways to play something. After a while, we just get used to it, we get jaded, and there’s so much that becomes so predictable. Genuine surprise and wonder eventually gets dulled.

Ever have a moment where you’re watching a film or television show for the first time, and it’s so utterly formulaic, that you can literally shout out the lines before the actors do? Because even though this is the first time you’ve watched it, it is so dull, so much a part of things we’ve seen over and over, that there’s no surprise. Watching it for the first time, you can recite the actor’s dialogue and the story beats.

But what about those times when an actor says something, when the story does something that you didn’t see coming. When it’s honestly new and unexpected. Remember that thrill?

If any of you are writers or artists out there, then take this as a suggestion. Be unexpected, do the unexpected. The most interesting thing for people is not knowing what happens next. That’s what people watch for. Because if they know what’s next… why do they need to bother watching or reading? Maybe there are other reasons, but if there are, you damned well need to deliver something.

I Worship His Shadow? It was absolutely brilliant. Things happened that I wasn’t expecting or anticipating, everything was new. It was that ‘first time’ sense of wonder and excitement. I literally had no idea what was coming next, who was going to live, who was going to die, where the story was going to go, who was even important to the story, what anyone was going to say. I just had to keep watching to see what happens, I was watching without a net.

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The Grindhouse Madman

I grew up working at a Drive-In, B-Movies are in my blood, cyborgs, ninjas, Charles Bronson flicks, gritty Italian giallos about unstoppable yet sleazy tough guys, careening through life like human car crashes, goofy monsters and the inept heroes floundering after them. My brother was a huge fan of Mack Bolan books, I used to collect them for him. So with that grindhouse sensibility, how could I not love the crazed stylings of I.D. Russell.  I first ran across him running a table at a local comic convention, and I quickly became a fan of his altar ego, the demented, unstoppable cop, Frank, from River City, a human engine of destruction, whether he’s facing off against Robot Mounties, Japanese Ninjas, Colombian Drug Lords or the entre at a Red Lobster. Firmly tongue in cheek, his work is full of inspired, hyperviolent lunacy. So check him out, it’s worth it…

I have a compulsion.

I need to be doing something creative.

I’ve made two feature films and have a dozen scripts that I’d like to produce next. I’ve written over thirty novels and published seven. I’ve got lots more story ideas swirling around in my head or illegibly written in point form on scraps of paper all over the house. I run two youtube channels: one a sock puppet movie review parody show and the other an outlet for whatever random short film or goofy sketch idea that crosses my mind.

But I also actively train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and previously studied Hapkido (where I received a black belt). I’ve dabbled in boxing, tae kwon do, yoga, karate, judo, and aikido. I’ve competed in tournaments, done demonstrations at schools and folklorama and while I’v3 engaged in some pretty intense sparring in class, I’ve never been in a fight. (I’d like to keep it that way.)

So I’m busy. Real busy. The thing is, I can’t sit back on my laurels, (not that I have many in any scheme of things.) There’s always another project to work on, another corner to turn, another thing to try.

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LEXX Unauthorized, Series Three: It’s Hot and It’s Cold

Fire and Water, Heaven and Hell

Cause it’s hot and it’s cold
It’s “Yes” or it’s “No”
It’s in if it’s out
It’s up but it’s down
It’s wrong or it’s right

It’s black and it’s white

                                                                                        Apologies to Katy Perry

SERIES THREE OF LEXX, when everything radically.  Gone were the Sci Fi adventures from planet to planet, the dark, funny, furious adventures.  In it’s place was a thirteen part serial in which the LEXX was trapped in orbit around two warring planets, Fire and Water, and the crew journeyed between them, solving the mystery of Heaven and Hell. Behind the scenes, the genesis of series three was just as topsy turvy, with story roots going back before the first series was even released, driven by the crises and struggles of the second season, and wrestling with financial cutbacks. Volume three covers everything and anything to do with the third series.

WHAT IS LEXX: A ground breaking Canadian sci fi television series, created by Paul Donovan, Lex Gigeroff and Jeff Hirschfield, shot and produced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Salter Street Films, that ran four seasons between 1996 and 2002.

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After the WFC, Reflections and Musings.

he World Fantasy Convention in Salt Lake City is over and done with, life returns to normal. Or as normal as we get these days.

I thought I’d share a few reflections.

First up, I found it really well organized. The web site was clear and easy to navigate, the portal or video conferencing system, was intuitive. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and despite trepidation, navigated quite easily. I found what I wanted to find without difficulty, and the few times I struggled, the tech crew was understanding and helpful. Apparently they had technical glitches, as with the readings, but they coped, adapted and everything went smoothly.

Not everyone had my experience, a few of the more famous established writers seemed to struggle a little.

But personally, this was great. As far as I’m concerned, this could serve as a blueprint for online conventions.

Programming what I saw of it, was excellent. Programming started Wednesday and ran through Sunday. There was a mix of ‘professional development’ and ‘writing development’ panels. I especially appreciated the ones on finding an agent and on marketing. But all the panels were interesting and imaginative.

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Booklife Contest: Update – The Luck

The review came in finally, with The Luck, my second entry into the Booklife Contest.  Just to recap, it’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals, the finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.  My first entry, The Princess of Asylum, has made it into the quarter finals.

Plot: Valdron’s The Luck is a sequel/prequel to The Mermaid’s Tale, but it succeeds as a stand-alone title. Valdron’s complex, well-woven work of fantasy immediately thrusts readers into a detailed world occupied by a menagerie of beings living at odds with, and in suspicion of, one another.

Prose: Valdron’s writing is immersive and colorful, providing a a fine blend of descriptive worldbuilding, exposition, and dialogue that lifts the storytelling.

Originality: The world of The Luck is filled by familiar beings, but provides freshness in the dynamics between these occupants and communities in conflict, as well as its mystery element. The journey of an orc and her unlikely gnome companion, is a rich and enjoyable one.

Character/Execution: Valdron’s protagonist is immensely intriguing. Her identity is slow to emerge and readers expecting a quick moving fantasy may grow frustrated. Those willing to invest in her and other creaturely characters’ story arcs, will be deeply rewarded.

Score:

  • Plot/Idea: 8
  • Originality: 8
  • Prose: 8
  • Character/Execution: 9
  • Overall: 8.25
You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize.

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