Demon Hotel, Based on a True Story

The Demon Hotel is a real thing. Or it was. Demon Hotel used to be an abandoned three story apartment block at 44 Hargrave in downtown Winnipeg. It was a formidable brick structure dating from around 1910, with a red brick facade and old fashioned bay windows which loomed ominously. The stone stairs that fronted it had been slowly worn by thousands of feet going back and forth over decades. The front lobby was covered with mosaic tiles, and featured a long broken pay phone.

Inside the building was a maze of resident staircases going up and down, emergency stairs, and service stairs which concealed the ancient wiring and plumbing. I’d actually visited it decades ago, passing by the broken pay phone, its casing cracked, and hanging out with street kids in the basement, as they hot knifed hash and talked music and gossip.

I’m not sure why the building closed down. Perhaps settling or subsidence of the soil following the great Winnipeg flood a decade or so ago, you could see visible cracks running up from the foundation, crawling the length of the building, and skewing the window frames, giving the front of the building a wicked twisted smile, as if it knew something you didn’t, something dark and disturbing.

But close down it did. The last tenants moved out, died or were evicted. Desultory efforts at renovation were begun and then abandoned. The windows on the lower floors were boarded up, but now and then, lights seemed to shine from the unboarded upper windows. Shapes were sometimes glimpsed in those upper windows, the fleeting impressions of windows looking down.

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Booklife Contest: Princess of Asylum, Update

So here goes… I’ve entered my unpublished novel, Princess of Asylum into the Booklife Contest.   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 and then a First prize of $5000.00.

Anyway, I got my review back….

Blurb: A fast-talking actress makes her scrappy way across the wasteland, surviving by her wits — and shaping empires with her lies. Imagine a vivid high fantasy, full of beasts and sieges and cults, narrated with the wit of Anita Loos.

Plot: D.G. Valdron’s bold, funny, fast-moving fantasy The Princess of Asylum follows quick-witted actress Dae Zea Lors after the destruction of her city. Dae survives in the wasteland by improvising a series of increasingly outlandish lies and personae, convincing bandits and orgus and more that she’s, variably, a princess, or an expert in jewel magic, and eventually a priestess. The story’s scope is epic, with airships and military sieges galore, but its tone is light and its perspective intimate, always tied to Dae. Inevitably, the hero’s lies make her a leader, and she’s surprised to discover herself caring about people beyond herself. The novel opens as a picaresque, with Dae bumbling from encounter to encounter, but by the end, as the plot takes shape, readers will actually care for Dae’s world and companions. The sense of urgency that powers the novel’s final third, though, is sometimes missing in the book’s middle, especially in the occasional cases when the balance between comedy and fantasy storytelling proves uncertain.

Prose/Style: Valdron excels at both the narrative perspective of his protagonist, a savvy actress who finds being on a fantasy adventure something of a comic imposition, and at the demands of epic fantasy storytelling. His worldbuilding is memorable and unique but communicated to readers in Dae’s offhand observations; his descriptions of the fantastic or terrifying are quick and powerful. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, as Dae improvises new selves and lies to stay alive; at times, the characters she’s hoodwinking, such are written as if they’re willing participants in a comedy routine, such as the tyrant who apologizes for scheduling conflicts with her upcoming execution. The novel’s pleasures and occasional problems rise from the same source: the tricky balance between the comedy of Dae’s improvisations and the threatening reality around her. For the most part, though, Valdron aces that balance.

Originality: It is rare for a fantasy novel to center on such an exciting new character and idea. Besides the strength of the premise and Dae’s general delightfulness, the world of The Princess of Asylum is itself original, wrought with care, and revealed in tantalizing glimpses.

Character Development: There’s no doubt about it: Dae is a character readers will love, and her wit and sensibility drive the book. She faces hard choices, makes surprising sacrifices, and movingly comes to care about more than her own life. At times, especially in the novel’s middle, the complaints and patter of Dae’s inner monologue cut against the narrative urgency, especially when she’s joking or crabbing about the book’s cast as if they’re all in a play together rather than continually facing their own deaths. At such moments, she seems not to have grown during her adventures, reverting to being a comic type rather than a fully-shaped protagonist. That makes the novel feel long, even as it’s entertaining: If she’s not taking the situations seriously, readers will be tempted to join her. The saps, villains, monsters, and occasional upstanding folks she encounter also prove memorable, driven by their own coherent but interesting motivations.

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Local Heroes: Casia and the Rose Princesses

I hate people like Casia Shreyer.  I started noticing her at conventions, this petite whirlwind of activity, organizing group tables for multiple authors, helping out people, keeping journals, going camping, raising children with her husband, running a household, yarn crafts, studying tae kwan do, and writing up a storm, blasting out twenty books so far (twenty!), all with inexhaustible energy, irrepressible good cheer. She’s one of these good people who can’t help trying to make the world better, and inadvertently making the rest of us look like lazy cynical gits in the process.

I’ll tell ya, lazy old monster that I am, my response to such cheerful brilliant souls is usually just to do something horrible, usually with a wood chipper, and bury the remains where it won’t annoy people.  But Casia, she’s probably reorganize the underworld, chug out another book series and bring pilates classes to hell.  We don’t really want pilates classes in hell, do we?.  So there’s no point, really. What can you do?

Casia’s Rose Garden is a five book series, a young adult adventure series for teen girls.  With allusions and similarities to everything from the Fisher King and Tibetan Buddhism, to Sailor Moon, they’re about young women growing as they struggle with a difficult and complex world and challenges of life that are not always cut and dried.  It’s an impressive body of work and I think it deserves to find a wider audience. 

Take it away, Casia….

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Covers are a Pain in the Ass

Covers are a giant pain in the ass. Seriously.

I love writing. It’s my sane place, it’s my compulsion. I’ll just happily write away, stories, novels, briefs, what have you. There’s nothing like a good piece of writing to soothe the soul.

But then I do this self publishing gig, and it’s not enough to write. You have to edit, revise, arrange, assemble, format. Most of this I can do myself, with varying degrees of skill, or lack thereof?

But covers? Oh geez. What do you do for that?

I’ve been told, and I have reason to believe that the best selling covers are images of shirtless young men with six packs.

Yeah, okay, sure. That’s pretty much every romance novel cover ever! So I guess it appeals to women, and gay men. And come to think of it, that’s every Tarzan, every Doc Savage, every superhero, and a hell of a lot of adventure stories. So women, gay men, teenage boys, etc. It’s got universal appeal.

Maybe that’s what I should be doing for covers?

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Standing at the Foot of a Mountain

I’m losing track of how many ebooks I have out.  I think ten.  Might be twelve.  Whatever the number, will probably be more before the year is out.

Anyway, recently, a facebook friend asked me if a paperback version of one of my ebooks was available.

I said no.

That lead into a discussion of why I hadn’t bothered.  Basically, at this point for me, it’s cost benefit analysis.  Something like half or two thirds the market is ebooks, up to 95% for some writers.  So how much time and effort do I want to put into doing a paperback version, when I could put that time and effort into something more useful to me… like doing another ebook, writing a novel or more short stories, looking for an agent, yadda yadda.

And to be really honest, doing a paperback seems like a lot of work for little practical return.  Suppose I do a paperback.  Online sales of the paperback are likely to be marginal.  Like I said, maybe 95% of online sales are ebooks, and 5% paperbacks.  Once the paperback is done, what do I do with it?  I’m not going to get distribution through Barnes & Noble or Chapters, sorry.  That just doesn’t happen.

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Rethinking: King Kong Meets Dracula

Image by SteveIrwinfan96, borrowed

First up, let me shout out to BigJack Films, a youthful youtuber who seems utterly fascinated by all things King Kong. He seems barely out of his teens, if at all, with a bad haircut and a reedy voice, which suggests that puberty was cruel. But he’s prolific as hell, and his videos ring with a level or research and genuine enthusiasm that can’t be faked.

And he’s got a lot of fascinating King Kong-iana. The skinny on abortive Kong projects, including the 1960’s Hammer films attempt which failed, but somehow resulted in Jim Danforth’s ‘King Kong’s Volkswagon commercial’, commentary on Universal Studios exhibitions, and surveys of giant apes generally.

He’s so comprehensive in his approach, that he even catalogues and reviews King Kong fan films.

Who even knew there was such a thing?

I’m interested in fan films, and I see them as relevant works in their own right. Fan films are seldom, if ever perfect, and quite often, many of them are flat out terrible. But every single one of them is made with love, and that counts for a lot. So I was very intrigued by his reviews.

Generally, King Kong fan films fall neatly into two categories.

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The Last Time I Almost Got Shot

[What you are about to read is true. It happened.  One day, out of the blue, Cops broke into my home arrested me for trafficking and held me at gunpoint. Then it was over and they went away.  If any of you wonder, I will quite readily admit that given the statistics, there’s a chance that if I was native or black, or if I’d acted differently, I could have been dead.

Ignore the picture by the way. That’s an illustrative image I’ve taken off the internet. The persons depicted in it had nothing to do with what happened to me.]

There I was, sitting back, in my bathrobe, checking my email, breezing through web sites, watching some saturday morning cartoons and unwinding a little before going downstairs to work on the bathroom.

And I notice, looking out my picture window, a couple of men in dark uniforms jumping out and running up my drive way. I had a big picture window, but the curtains were gauze. It looked like they were police officers running up my driveway with weapons drawn. But I hadn’t called 911, there was no emergency. Maybe they were ambulance attendants rushing up, and heading to the wrong house.

My first thought is that my neighbors are having some sort of domestic crisis. Maybe a heart attack. Or some domestic dispute. Their driveway is right next to mine, so sometimes on a quick glance, it can be a little confusing as to which driveway. But no, it definitely looks like mine. They’re heading to me.

So I go over to the front door to open it and see what they want.

As I get there, they burst in, screaming “Freeze, get down on the floor! You’re under arrest for trafficking in cocaine!”

They’ve got a shotgun pointed at me. The other one has a pistol in a two handed grip. They’re both screaming. And their orders are contradictory. That’s my first thought. Do I freeze? Or do I get on the floor? If I freeze, will I be shot for getting on the floor? Or if I get to the floor, will they shoot me for not freezing.

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What would you do?

Here’s a thought experiment.  Try it on.

What if God came to you one day.

And God said,  “I don’t like you.”

God goes on,  “It’s just one of those things.  It’s not personal, it’s not something you did, or didn’t do. There’s no reason for it.  Sometimes these things just happen.  I just don’t like you. I know the books say I’m ‘love’ and I’m supposed to love everyone, and that’s mostly true, maybe for everyone else. But not you. I draw the line. I don’t like you. I’m God, and I can do that. I don’t have to justify or explain. It is what it is.”

“So here’s the deal,” God continues, “your life will be meaningless and worthless. Nothing you ever do will matter.  No one will ever care about you. Your existence will be pointless and meaningless. It will be that way every single day, every single moment.  You can kill yourself tomorrow, or you can live a long time, I don’t care. You can rob liquor stores, or build cathedrals, or go to church every day, it won’t make a difference. You won’t make a difference to anyone or anything, you’ll have no accomplishments, no family, no legacy. Eventually, you’ll die, and I’ll be rid of you. But I really don’t care. That’s the way it is because I don’t like you.”

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Lovecraft’s World

Back when The Mermaid’s Tale came out, I was attending a Sci Fi Convention called CanCon in Ottawa, Ontario.

Interesting story there. One day, I get an email from Lorina, my publisher, asking about the book launch for The Mermaid’s Tale. I replied back, that it sounded like a terrific idea, I was all for it. Then I learned there was actually a book launch scheduled at a convention called When World’s Collide in Alberta. Terrific! But then I found that When World’s Collide was sold out, both the convention and the hotels. I missed my own book launch. Kind of ironic, or something.

So I thought what the hell, and went to CanCon. It was nice. The problem for me is that I don’t attend these things regularly enough to be able to take full advantage of them.

If I have any advice for young writers, it’s this: Go to conventions regularly. You don’t have to go to all of them, but pick a few, and go a few years in succession. The first time at a particular convention you’re just getting the lay of the land. I think it’s the second or third time, maybe even fourth, that you can actually take advantage of the potential opportunities. Hell, if you go there three or four years in a row, then you may just keep on for the hell of it.

The first year, it’s up and down. You go to panels, you sign up for things, you say hello to random strangers. It’s all hit and miss

So anyway, at CanCon, I attended an absolutely terrible panel on Lovecraft and Racism.

How terrible was it?

Let me put it this way: One of the panellists, in the minutes before the panel actually started, had to google Lovecraft on her phone. Well, that’s a good sign. That’s preparation.

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Reflections on a Pandemic

WARNING:  Strong and Salty language in use.  Unkind things are said in the unkindest possible ways.  Words not used in polite company are employed in appropriate ways.  Do not read if you are easily offended.  If judicious use of vulgar language is not for you, then piss off. I don’t care. Sometimes you have to be blunt.

Hi ho. So here we are, into the seventh month of a pandemic, no end in sight. Most of us are holding our breaths waiting for a second wave.

The United States… Well, let’s put it this way. Their handling of the pandemic has been nightmarishly bad. We can blame the Orange Narcissist, but in fact there’s plenty of blame to go around, ranging from badly mismanaged and ill coordinated pandemic plans at federal, state and local levels, politicization of the virus, and just an appalling amount of selfishness and stupidity among large parts of the population.

You could spend weeks dissecting everything the Americans did wrong. But so what?  America is a distraction.  It’s a distraction from how completely badly so many others dropped the ball.

I’m going to be blunt: There are a lot of dead people in Canada, because the people who should have been paying attention were asleep at the wheel. The same for Italy, for Iran, for France and England, Spain and Germany, Russia, Brazil, India, you name it.

Those people, the ones asleep at the wheel, do not deserve to be let off the hook. They do not get to point to America and say “Yes, we were negligent and sloppy and half assed, we weren’t paying attention, or exercising due diligence, yes the sins of our past caught up with us, and we weren’t prepared, we acted late and badly, and we lied to you some, possibly a lot… but hey, look at Trump!”

No.

Dear Bastards, you do not get to do that.

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