on keeping a log-line book

I keep tiny notebooks of log-lines. These are brief kernels – nay, seeds – of a story.

For instance:

A bored office worker finds himself stuck in a carpool with his most annoying co-worker.

Or:

Ted wakes up in the morning to find a werewolf drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper at his kitchen table.

(Aside“Ted” and “Lucy” are my go-to placeholder names. It’s rather helpful, as sometimes just trying to think of a name, even if it takes ten seconds, can mean losing your crazy train of thought.)

I write these log-lines down, one per page. Maybe I can flesh them out into something later; maybe not. Sometimes I will make myself sit down and come up with, say, ten log-lines. Then, I will sit there and think of them, just to write them down then forget them.

It’s a simple exercise, the point of which is really just to start thinking. It helps focus what I’ve got rattling around in my head. A lot of the ideas are terrible, but sometimes just writing them down so I can forget them is a good way to deflate that bloat that creeps into your creative process.

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There are so many log-lines I have that I just know I will never write. Mostly because they are either a joke that only I found funny, or because they just seemed too gimmicky, in either structure or conceit, or because, as much as I would want to read them, they aren’t the sort of thing I could write.

These are a few of those unpolished gems. If they somehow strike a chord with you, by all means, write away. Just promise me you’ll let me read the results!

 In a big “whoopsie” moment, NASA accidentally destroys the moon, wreaking havoc on planet Earth.

A series of passive-aggressive post-it notes left between two roommates escalates quickly beyond control into an all-out war.

Desperate to get home to London for a wedding during the Icelandic volcano eruption of 2010, Lucy finds an ad on Craigslist posted by Ted, who is driving from Greece to London and is looking for a carmate to share the cost… these two strangers navigate a traveller-ridden Europe in a race against time.

Lucy suspects her boss is writing a novel… about her.

Ted collects porcelain dolls but can’t relate to people… until the precocious kid next door arrives with intent to harm.

An atheist and a creationist who fell in love at first sight are at the end of their first date and are about to discover each other’s beliefs.

Two Bridget Jones-ish roommates are suddenly put upon to take care of a friend’s baby for the weekend.

Little Red Riding Hood reaches the cabin in the woods to duel her arch nemesis, the Big, Bad Wolf, but this time, he’s brought back up, so she summons the rest of “The Hoods,” Yellow Riding Hood, Blue Riding Hood, Black Riding Hood and Pink Riding Hood (the boy), and when their powers combine…

Two geeks argue over triple word scores as the Apocalypse sounds off all around them and they just want to get one last game of Scrabble in.

Machines are taking over the world, one pocket calculator at a time. Calculations are wrong! Computer run time errors predicate doom! It is the most passive-aggressive Terminator ever.

As an old cat reflects on his nine lives well led, the Ghost of Nine Lives Past visits and shows him how he could have led a more selfish, vain, greedy, cat-like life.

In a fit of idealism, a typesetter for a famous 16th century printer places a typo in a copy of the bible… which leads to blasphemous consequences.

Ted changes the world when he discovers a film developing fluid that allows people to have conversations with photographs. Suddenly, history is changed, he’s rich and famous, but then he discovers an old roll with the grandfather he never knew. Does he want to delve into his own family’s secret past?

A woman and her husband’s best friend are on the verge of an affair. Just as they are about to tell him, he dies suddenly and they are stuck on how to proceed.

Delighted with how he got spoiled for his birthday, twenty-three-year-old Ted fakes a terminal illness in order to manipulate his family into spending time with him on his own terms.

Five people from all over the world find themselves all in the same spot at the same time: Pont des Arts in Paris. They are strangers and this was not planned; something is drawing them together.

A young girl can remember her past lives after a troubling accident. As the details start to piece themselves together, she realises one common – and horrifying – thread.

An Irish gypsy girl falls in love with an investment banker. It is not so much Romeo-and-Juliet as it is the profitable tinsmith business in the UK.

A young graduate student embarks on an affair with the academic rival of his research supervisor (who is also his mentor/father-figure).

A naïve young celebrity forms a unique bond with her dentist following a series of visits to correct her “unmarketable” overbite.

A ditzy frat bro takes to the road with the outcast valedictorian after the duo unwittingly steals a valuable piece of property from the university.

A ghostwriter who never gets credit for their work is tasked with the autobiography of a selfish socialite. When it’s clear her subject could care less, the ghostwriter takes liberties to the extreme, blowing the celebrity social world wide open.

A middle-class drug dealer is forced to hide his lifestyle when his religious sister and her two precocious children come to stay after her husband walks out.

A travel guide writer finds the easiest way to do his job is to sit in train stations talking to people, until he meets someone worth following around the world.

The clerk in the head-of-state’s office in charge of writing the 100th birthday letters has an existential crisis and decides to hand-deliver the letters.

When the ghost of a supervillain begins stalking the corridors who is there to stop him? Ouija boards and séances underway, can they summon the ghost of the superhero who defeated him in life?

Whilst playing an historical RPG, Ted realizes that his changes are starting to have real-world effects… for instance, when his CG counterpart prevents the Norman invasion, the entire face of Britain changes.

A lonely forest ranger discovered the body of a disappeared hiker. As he waits three days through a snow storm for the authorities to arrive, he discovers the hiker’s diary and the secrets it keeps.

A downtown waterfront condo development goes awry when the old, disused train tracks they were about to dig up suddenly come to life: a train is chugging down them…

the rubbermaid tub of broken dreams

In a fit of nostalgia-fueled panic, I dug with gusto into this blue tub I keep in the closet that houses all the old poetry and scripts and stories I wrote in my teenage years.

This is not a metaphor. I hope.

That blue tub contains horrors and treasures in equal measure. Like some kind of acne-speckled Cave of Wonders.

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But the reason for this spelunking expedition seemed straight-forward enough at the time. My ambition for my own work was starting to frustrate me. I felt like I couldn’t start to plot something out or brainstorm without trying to add complicating layers. I’d come up with a plot-point or character tic and then my mind would spiral off into a million tangents, like light through a prism. But it was neither that beautiful nor that cliche; my mind just felt… overwhelmed.

Or, even worse, I would start to obsess over what it all means. This is not necessarily a problem, but when it comes with a lack of plot progression or character development, then I’m stuck. I might be staring down the barrel of something that sounds brilliant, but I can’t actually write it.

Working under the assumption that these murky depths in my writing came like layers, one with each year of my life, I decided to find a story idea from my younger years. Somehow, I thought, I could peel back those layers to get to the core. Somewhere down there was a simple narrative along the lines of girl-meets-boy-then-dies-horrifically-in-battle.

I just needed something… simple… to clear my head. I’d become too bogged-down. For me, writing is like that old myth about sharks drowning if they stop swimming. I’ve got to keep writing. As soon as I lose momentum, it takes forever for me to start going again. Weeks. Months. Years, sometimes.

So I needed something where I could just sit down and start writing. Something simple.

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Not counting some ridiculousness about teenagers taking road trips that I wrote when I was twelve, the first story I had that I really fleshed out was a science fiction epic (that leaned a little too heavily on Hollow Earth nonsense).

When I started telling Husband all these laughable ideas I had when I was a teenager, he asked me more about this one. For the better part of a forty-minute car ride, I dove into the story, surprised at how much of this world I created when I was thirteen came back to me.

It’s been well over fifteen years since I’ve even thought about it. I’d long ago banished it to the realm of absurd shit I used to think was cool. (Some of the company it kept: post-grunge pop punk and shiny plastic peacoats.) I’d assumed it was terrible.

But it’s… not.

Which is surprising. There are problems with the first couple of chapters I already had, naturally, but the premise is sound. Even if you ignore the stupidity of Hollow Earth crap and just go with it. Hell, subterranean fiction is it’s own genre with a deep mythology.

I started over from the beginning on Tuesday and I’m already over 5000 words in. That’s farther than I ever got before.

Subterranean homesick blues, indeed.

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– Lawrence Langer, The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1977)

presenting Redwing (ta da!)

2aceedf2-c678-4d53-9ed0-bfac020cbad0Ah ha! The much awaited publication of Redwing is here!

Redwing: Speculative Fiction Takes Flight is available as an e-book for Kindle and Kobo. With ten stories for $2.99, that’s mere pennies per mind-blowing experience!

Somewhere within that epic of majesty is my piece, Ticker Tape Kings… a strange meditation on time travel and the realities of the past. I hope you enjoy it; I’m rather proud.

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– Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

an introvert learns to say no

I work with many different people whom one could objectively describe as “lovely.”

The problem is… well, perhaps the problem is me… but there is something that slowly wears away at you when you spend the better part of your day with people you have nothing in common with. (In that regards, perhaps that is how high school truly prepares us for the real world.)

As an introvert, I’ve spent years forcing myself to socialize. I have this carefully practiced persona that I flick on like a switch. Some days, it’s easy to do. Others, it’s just… ugh. Too much work.

For most of my life, I did not realize that being introverted is normal. I always assumed that extroversion was the default setting. I was broken.

The pressure to socialize and to have a flourishing social life was always overwhelming. Being bright and bubbly is the gold standard for how one should act, just as weekends spent out with friends – cramming as much gossip and cocktails in as possible – is how one must live. A Saturday night at home makes you a failure.

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When I lived with roommates for the first time, I felt this tremendous relief that I didn’t have to leave the house to socialize. There – right in my own home – were people who would save me from the social blacklist! No longer was I sitting at home watching TV all weekend, I was “hanging out with friends.”

When surrounded by people I genuinely enjoy and respect (and don’t feel judged by), I can be a bright and bubbly person. I can actually like socializing. But most people I simply don’t enjoy.

Maybe it’s because I’m an asshole, or maybe it’s because other people are, but I feel shoe-horned into the greater swathes of humanity. It seems as though most people want to talk about their mortgages / children / retirement plans, how much they enjoyed the Expendables movies, and how the protesters in Ferguson should just shut the hell up already.

If this is the average person, then I’m just not a good fit, and I’m okay with that.  It’s exhausting to have these conversations over and over. Does no one want to discuss anything substantial?

The thing with discovering yourself, whatever that is, is that once you realize something significant about yourself, you can’t go back. It was just like when I realized I was an atheist. It was not a decision I made, but something about myself I was unable to change… like the fact that I can’t stand canned tuna. I can force that shit down, but I can’t make myself like it. Once I realized that socializing had no objective benefit to my life, then I lost the will to do it.

So it’s tough, eight hours a day, forcing yourself to socialize with people with whom you have so little in common.

The obvious solution seems to be to find like-minded people with whom to work with. But alas. To make such a declaration is to be naive about the current job market and to be oblivious to the fact that most other like-minded people are also introverts. We don’t make real friends easily. I know many people at my place of employ with whom I am sure I would get along fantastically. The problem is, most of them I’ve worked with for years and have barely spoken to. I think we all take to the internet, and I guess that’s where we find each other too.

The best I can do is cut the people who exhaust me from my life as much as possible. No, I will not waste Sunday afternoon listening to you drone on about hockey draft picks, thankyouverymuch. No, I won’t watch your racist / sexist / uninformed bile spew up on my Facebook feed all day. No.

No, no, no.

I’ve learned to say No.

I think you have to sometimes. It was a formative moment for me when I realized I could do that. Wait, what do you mean I don’t have to attend every social obligation I’ve been invited to? What do you mean I don’t have to like everyone?

And I don’t have to be bothered by the fact that people don’t like me?

It’s such a relief to really accept that. It’s the only way to make it through those days when you have to grin and bear it when someone complains about their “paltry” pay cheque that’s easily double yours, or try to come up with a politely worded rebuff when someone makes a casually racist joke.

No way I’m doing that when I’m not on the clock.

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– Anne McCaffrey

lost in the supermarket: a musical education in the early internet era

I first began listening to The Clash in high school. The internet was far past its infancy, but one could say it was an awkward teenager. It was the days before Youtube and Wikipedia and no one else I knew listened to old punk. If you even said “old punk,” kids thought you meant Green Day. It was a badge of pride if you even owned Dookie. These were the days of Blink 182 and Sum 41 and other quantified nouns. Sad times, indeed.

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I had a boyband phase in kindergarten, younger than most. New Kids on the Block it was for me then. But most of the kids I grew up with continued to listen to pop music (cited as the culture), while others took to the post-grunge spectrum (cited as the counter to this culture… the alternative, if you will).

As the nineties waxed and waned, I fell into the alternative. I became obsessed with understanding the gritty side of rock and roll. I can’t explain how, but early in life, I began to empathize with the outsider (as a cultural trope). I’m sure everyone does at some point; it’s the go-to cliche of adolescence.

I think the first moment the pendulum started to shift was when my mum played Bill Haley. Having never properly heard rock and roll before, it blew my mind. This was definitely something far more profound than anything contemporary pop music. From there, I listened to a lot of early rock and roll courtesy of my mother: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Supremes, the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Wonderful.

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And then I remember my dad introducing me to Bruce Springsteen. It was Springsteen that made me realize that people could sing about something other than love, dancing, or variations thereon…. And then I remember seeing Smashing Pumpkins playing the Grammy’s. At first I could not comprehend this strange music lacking in melodies. I could not fathom why someone would want to scream rather than sing. But that wasn’t the point. Combined with what I learned from the Boss, music took on a whole new dimension.

In the same way we create history in our head into order to provide context for our own lives, I wanted to know the story of rock and roll. If you grow up in North America, you grow up with a culture screaming at you that music is important. Music means something. Music tells us who we are. I’m not necessarily going to dispute that, but I think it’s important to question how we think music tells us who we are.

Why did every kid in high school feel the need to identify with a social group? And why was a key identifying characteristic of a social group what music you listened to? Why was it impossible for you to like, say, both Goldfinger and Spice Girls? Especially if the former were made famous by covering a song that was in the same genre as the latter? Is that the essence of society: cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy? Perhaps.

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But I needed answers to these questions. I needed to know why certain music was counter-culture. Because I never felt like alternative properly identified who I am. Whatever I was, it was not pop music. And the whiny caddishness of most post-grunge was not it either. Nothing was substantial enough. The closest I got in the nineties was Hole.

I wish I had easier access to riot grrl. It would have been exactly what I was looking for. I can only blame a male-bias, but I remember reading nothing but hatred for Courtney Love. I still don’t get it. It’s hard to imagine spending your formative years listening to solely the perspective of the opposite gender and not being fucked up by or pissed off with the whole experience. There was remains to be something empowering and cathartic about hearing Courtney Love scream with frustration at being used and objectified so blatantly.

But, as I said, Youtube and Wikipedia did not exist then. It was hard to discover music outside one’s social circle. If people you knew weren’t into it, it might as well not exist. The radio failed me. There was no zine culture at my school and my funds – and record-store selections – were limited. The best I could do was scour through magazines and library books and try to parse out what seemed interesting, influential, and important. I might not have been able to hear a lot the music I read about, but at least I could use it to build a historical framework and narrative structure.

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When Napster finally appeared, it was a god-send. Now, I spent night after night downloading songs I had read about. A whole new world broke open. Music finally began to make sense. I could fill in all the bare bones of my framework, all this tiny elements of influence that had fused together to lead from one major musical trend to another. Amazing it is how so many musicians and songwriters whose work bleeds through the prevailing zeitgeist of each generation can remain so relatively unknown themselves.

This how I really got into The Clash. (Talk about burying the lede, I know. A thousand words in. Apologies.) I had heard The Clash before, but the stuff that made it to the radio lacked the bite of the stuff that didn’t.

To say that The Clash changed my life is to miss the point. The Clash didn’t change my life so much as they showed me who I already knew I was. It’s so rare that something truly clicks with you, but I believe it’s one of the things we live for. Think about it. How often do you truly meet a person that just gets you? How often do you read a book or watch a film or appreciate a work of art that you just get? You know what I mean. It happens. But so, so rarely.

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The Clash I just got. Every artistic choice, I wanted to say to Joe Strummer, “I getcha. I’m with you.” Even with the missteps, I wanted to console, “I see what you were going for and you tried. You failed, but you learned. It’s a process. A discovery. I can’t wait to see what you do with the lesson learned.”

It’s fascinating when you find an artist you can grow with. And even though most of their catalogue was before my time, that’s how The Clash felt to me. I don’t mean that I aged with their work, like “an album a year in progressing maturity, like fucking Harry Potter,” but more that as I aged, I could appreciate the work in different and deeper ways.

When I first got into The Clash, my favourite song was Lost in the Supermarket. So typical, I know. I wasn’t capable of detecting the sarcasm of the lyrics. Like most reviewers at the time, I, too, took it as a sentimental Mick Jones ditty. But I liked it. Because I was a melodramatic teenage girl, I thought it spoke to me and my lower middle class upbringing.

But then I grew up, gained some fucking perspective, realized Joe Strummer wrote the lyrics not Mick Jones, and I realized again why first generation punk was the best and why punk has never quite been the same since. Post-punk lost its sense of self-awareness.* Lost in the Supermarket is conscious of its backstory. Lost in the Supermarket makes fun of its self while also turning that self-awareness on its head. Lost in the Supermarket is a great example of how punk is at its best when the personal is political.

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The disconnect seemed to grow as punk splintered off into hardcore (just political), emo (just personal) and so on. To me, that is what music is at its best: the personal as political. Navel-gazing has its place. Politics have their place. But like any good art, the artist hands out an extension of themselves and says: This is who I am in the world and this is why it matters.

And that is what I had always been looking for in music. It’s what I still look for.

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*I am well aware of the cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy inherent in first generation punk, especially with the sad realities of facts like The Sex Pistols being just as manufactured as a boy band. I could go on at length, but I think the core importance of first generation punk is that it was so desperately needed. Just as rock and roll was needed, just as the explosion of genre in the sixties was needed, just as grunge was needed, and just as I feel something new is needed now.