An application

Hello, dear readers. Guess what I did this month?

C’mon, guess.

No. I didn’t run away to Hogwarts.

No, I didn’t spend 29 days straight binge-watching all of Netflix.

No… I didn’t have a whirlwind four weeks travelling the country and the world as a participant on The Amazing Race Canada.

I applied to grad school.

Specifically, UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA in Creative Writing. I compiled a lengthy portfolio (70 pages, to be precise), wrote an unnervingly short literary resume, and prepared a Statement of Intent that hopefully reads differently than the hundreds of other Statements the school will receive. (It should… I chose to read no examples of similar documents so it would stand out from the templated two-pagers of the grad-school groomed applicants.)

Why did I apply to this program, you ask?

Some applicants will be applying so they can teach creative writing.  Many and more applicants will be applying so they can make a living as a writer. (I admit, that would be surreal in the best way.) But me? I just want to be better.  I want to learn from authors I admire; I want to help and be helped by passionate peers; I want to do something personal and fulfilling. And I want to do these things without sacrificing the security and experience provided by my current career.  I am determined to “have it all,” whatever that looks like for me, and hopefully UBC is equally as enthused about giving me that opportunity.

Have a spooky weekend, friends.

Belated Fringe reviews for your reading pleasure

Hi, friends.

I know it may look like I went to the Winnipeg Fringe and never returned, but that was not quite  the case. I did see an awful lot of shows (but thankfully, not a lot of awful shows). I shattered my previous Fringing record. Here are my brief reviews of those experiences:

Burning Hearts: a skillfully told and atmospheric one-man show. 4 inspirational ghosts out of 5.

The Telephone: a bit hammy for my taste, but the singalong was cute. At the very least, you should leave with a smile. I give it 2 rotary phones out of 5.

White Pants from Hip.Bang: 4 spilled glasses of wine out of 5. Everything you need from a sketch show. Highlights? Cooool Tips and the “clothes fastener” improv.

Three Men in a Boat: 3 Britishisms out of 5. The actors were incredible, but I’d rather see them in a different play.

Channeling Kevin Spacey: Solid, well-acted and funny (esp. if you’re a Spacey or Pacino fan). 3.8 gold chains out of 5 from JT. Round down for me.

For Body and Light presents Coming and Going: Moody and damp contemporary dance and spoken word poetry. 2.5 rubber boots out of 5 for neato concept and lighting but strange execution. (5 yeses out of 5 for local poet Chimwemwe Undi’s opener.)

Hey ’90’s Kids, You’re Old: 5 Baby Bottle Pops out of 5. Delivers the perfect balance of nostalgic warmth and legit teasing. Highlight is Where’s Waldo and Carmen San Diego online dating, but every sketch is strong. Best for those born in the 80s (obvs).

Die Roten Puntkte: Best Band in the World: With lyrics like “You’re like a verb, always doing things to me” Die Roten Puntkte really is the best. 5 bananas out of 5.

The Orchid and the Crow at Fringe was excellent. Funny, sad, and smart. I give it 4.5 yellow jerseys out of 5.

Saw Snafu Dance’s Snack Music and loved the skittles and the puppetry. It’s too bad the audience didn’t provide much improv help. 3.5 out-of-tune zithers out of 5.

ViVA Dance Company’s Dreamscape kept getting stronger with each piece. I give it 4 barefoot pirouettes out of 5.

Major Matt Mason Collective’s Air was incredible. I left with numb fingers from the anxious fists I made. I give it 5 doubling cubes out of 5 (and a bag of chips). ***My favourite of the whole Fringe, ever***

Spotlight: Short performance which the moody, anxiety-ridden creative types will find familiar. Patchy casting (ironic) with a couple bright spots. 3 last chances out of 5.

How to Talk to Human Beings: witty, dialogue-heavy script with solid acting (Gilmore-esque with more neuroses). 4 polite Canadians at the end of their ropes out of 5.

Fringe Fest — a real journey of story

This is my favourite time of the year for the city. People have deluded themselves into forgetting the annual eight months of winter in the bright blissful Prairie heat of July. It’s sunny and verdant and vibrant everywhere, and in the city’s core the streets fill up with tents and buskers, food carts and performances.

Downtown is at its best right now, because the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre festival is on. 180 performances in 12 days at 32 different venues… it makes for a colourful, active, and entertaining vibe all over the city, but shines brightest in the three square kilometers surrounding Portage and Main.

Fringe

I’ll be spending a significant chunk of my free time taking in Fringe shows (I have 13 scheduled… the first, Burning Hearts, in less than two hours), and I think I’ve targeted a good cross-section of genres to explore this year. The one I’m most looking forward to? How to Talk to Human Beings (watch the epic and informative trailer).

I’ll be posting updates/reviews if I feel like it.

What?

I’m being honest.

 

S.E. Lund

 

P.S. If you’re curious, my second-most favourite time for the city is the second week of February.

Breakthroughs; or, the self-imposed task of building a unified fictional universe

Yo. Remember when I finished a first draft of that NaNoWriMo experiment-turned-serious project? That was a while ago. Maybe two whiles.

I put it away for a few months, and when I got around to reading it through with my editor hat on (man I wish I had an actual editor hat…) my biggest problem was pretty evident. The story is too complicated. Actually, to be accurate, the magical rules governing the universe are muddled and convoluted, and that informs the history, choices, and motivations of a number of my characters. Pretty much all of them.

So last week I set up camp in a local bookstore, drowned out the surrounding humanity with Songza’s “Acoustic versions of pop songs” playlist, opened up a brand-spanking new notebook, and set myself to the task of simplifying (or at the very least articulately defining) the key magical rules that govern the universe of my story.

Since I have a couple other faerie-based novels on the go, one of my supplemental goals was to create a universe that makes sense for all of these stories. I doubt they will ever overlap, but why not leave the option open?

I made a lot of progress on bookstore day (which basically meant I did some really dedicated staring off into the middle distance with some occasional scribbled pages of questions and all-caps major points), and since then I’ve been working to apply the “rules” to Mira’s story. By the way, Mira’s story is what I’m calling that NaNoWriMo-turned-first draft. I think I’ve called it Sea or The Nereid in other posts, but this feels more natural. I don’t want to give it a title until it has a title, if that makes sense.

Over the weekend I stewed on the issues that my new magical universe was causing (among them, the motivation of my main antagonist), and when I decided to have a wee brainstorming sesh over my lunch hour at work yesterday, the solutions were waiting for me. And I was right, fixing and defining the magical rules will improve everything else.

There are still some smaller issues to reason out, but I’m looking forward to re-writing for draft number two.

Well, I will look forward to it, after I finally decide if I’m going to change perspective of the story.

Dammit.

S.E. Lund

P.S. If I had an editor hat it would look like this:

Victorian riding hat

Read recently: The Martian by Andy Weir

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Published: serial blog turned self-published e-book in 2011 turned physical from by Crown Publishers in 2014
Read: July 1 & 2, 2015
Recommended by: someone online

Synopsis (from Andy Weir’s website)
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Review
First, maybe I’m crazy, but I assumed something called The Martian would be shelved in science fiction.

For a reason I can’t quite understand, it was shelved in fiction/literature. I had an interesting time trying to track it down. I know that’s not the book’s fault, but it was an inauspicious start to the reading experience.

There are a lot of things to enjoy about this book: the main character’s sarcasm (which made me laugh out loud on a few occasions), the absence of a romantic story arc (which is a refreshing change from everything else I’ve watched or read lately), the not-so-subtle jabs at bureaucracy (which are necessary with a book that involves a government agency with an $18 billion budget)… all good stuff.

But the thing I loved about this book? It was basically a giant high-five to all the big-brained something-ists (astrophysic-, botan-, chem-, etc.) out there. It’s a book about heroic, interesting  scientists. Look, I don’t know anything more than the average person about physics, engineering, or astronomy, but The Martian reads as if the author knows about all of these things, and it’s impressive.

This is a novel where the science drives the story, and while that should be dry, instead it’s just interesting and different. Yay!

I’m a bit nervous about it becoming a movie (coming out on October 2, 2015 starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, etc., etc.). Yes, there’s plenty of action, and I’m sure Ridley Scott and his cinematographers, designers, and special effects peeps will have a splendid time creating an impactful visual experience of the surface of Mars… it could be an exciting and stimulating film… but the SCIENCE. I think the film will have to cut out all of the technical details that I felt made the story special. I guess we’ll see.

As always: If you’re a friend, I’ll lend it to you. If you’re not, please visit one of your charming, musty, local libraries. If you want to own it for yourself, try your hardest to GO TO A BOOKSTORE (and preferably an independent bookstore) instead of an online retailer — though as The Martian was originally written and released online and then as an e-book, maybe this time I can get off my paper-loving high horse.

S.E. Lund

Where are all the readers at?

A few years ago I was in a communications program and working at a bookstore. I look back on those years with a strange mixture of shame and fondness. Mostly, I don’t like how I acted, the person I was trying to be, but it was a wonderful time for creativity and learning. In all areas of my life, I was surrounded by brilliant, crazy comedians and detailed, thoughtful planners and wild-eyed, metaphor-obsessed writers and stunning, infectious performers. It was a great time to get inspired, to create, and to get help. It’s those things  – the productivity and the creative support – I miss.

So here I am, five years later (five years?!), in need of a beta reader for my very, very rough first draft, and without a cocoon of creative types to throw it at. Where’d they all go? Look. Not to generalize, but… I’m friends with a lot of accountants now, and while they are all individuals with their own quirks and interests, fantasy doesn’t seem to run strong in any of them. The rest of my closest friends right now — the people I’d feel comfortable asking a favour from — are either non-confrontational (and thus useless for providing criticism) or not readers. Shoot.

The best person I can think of is the person who inspired me to write the story… and I really don’t want her to read it until it’s good.

Maybe I should give the accountants a chance.

Tricia’s List of Bad Guy Motivations

I’m on my first draft re-write, and as the rules governing the story universe shift, so does the “why” of my villain. Keeping these in mind:

The Plotless

Earlier this year I went to LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything—a symposium for science fiction and fantasy writers). While there I listened to a presentation on creating effective villains. One thing in particular that I learned was that bad guys can’t be bad just for the sake of being bad. In other words, every story needs a villain (whether tangible or not) and that villain needs to be three dimensional. He needs a back story. He needs motivation. He cannot be doing bad things just because you need a bad character. He needs to be driven. And as is mentioned several times in the Writing Excuses podcast, the villain needs to be the hero of his own story.

And even if you never explain the back story, the complexity of your characters will come through in your writing. Because the more you know about them, the more it shows.

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