Archive Page 2

Documentary: The City that Fun Forgot (?)

I came across this documentary and had to share.

I live in Ottawa, which is Canada’s national capital. Thought a city of almost 1 million people, it lacks a vibrancy or energy that a city this size should have.

This documentary examines how external perceptions (i.e., the residents carrying the blame for actions of government) and governmental culture have shaped Ottawa’s self-identity as well as how others are seeking to change it, even if it means more underground means.

Thank you, David Bowie, for marking a turning point in my life

I was never a big David Bowie fan. I recognize his contribution to music and admire his long a career, I was just never a fan.

With one exception.

Seeing SE7EN in the theatre was a transformative experience and it remains one of my favourite films. I was just out of school and looking for a job to become the adult I had been told my whole life that I needed to become as quickly as possible. But instead of opportunity, I found closed doors, arrogance and hypocrisy in this grown-up world I was supposed to join. I was frustrated, angry and jaded.

And here was this film where the bad guy dies but the good guys lose. Where a pregnant woman is beheaded (offscreen) to make a point. It’s always raining, people bicker more than cooperate and nothing is ever clean. We never know why John Doe does what he does, just that he was twistedly brilliant. And the universe doesn’t give a fuck about any of us.

I walked out realizing the Baby Boomer era of films—where the hero can get shot by a large caliber gun in the climax, but is pain-free and laughing with his buddies five minutes later in the closing comedic beat—was done. (Or, I’d hoped.) This was a movie that matched my pessimistic outlook and opinion of people. I never knew cinema could be like that.

The movie kicked off with a remix of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, a band I had just gotten into a few years earlier. That already put me in the right mood.

But when the credits rolled (downwards, opposite what you’d expect) it was Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” that played. Dark and brooding, it was the perfect song for sitting in stunned silence and trying to contemplate what you had just seen. (And soon after, Bowie would collaborate with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor for “I’m Afraid of Americans”.)

I realize that over a decades-long career, this song is relatively unimportant, but it is what I will always think of when I think about David Bowie—his voice washing over me, the industrial sound, the realization that being a grown-up would be mostly disappointment, tedium and frustration. That moment was a turning point in my life, and Bowie was its soundtrack. Hearing it still sends chills up my spine.

Thank you, David Bowie.

Rebooting Voltron on Netflix, and a proposed alternate version

Today, Netflix announced they were making a new Voltron animated series. This new show will be aimed at kids, but I think they are missing an opportunity here to mine some rich material.

Voltron, because everything from the 80s has to be dusted off and rebooted.

About 10 years ago, there was a live-action film in the works that would have been set in a desolate future Earth. (I am working from memory here; I could not find the plot summary I had read. If you can find it, please post in the comments.) Somehow, Earth and Arus are “twin worlds”, which allows the technology for Voltron to flow from Arus to Earth, allowing five young people to build the five lions from whatever they have at hand, ending in a Mad Max-esque Voltron defeating alien invaders.

Sounds like an interesting take, but consider the opening sequence of Voltron.

The group that’s sent to Arus is to bring Voltron back. This has elements of colonial exploitation. Rather than a kids show, what if this was an imperial power, which sees itself as benevolent, stealing a natural resource from an indigenous people?

More than that, the show hinted that Voltron was seen as a god. Whether the robot was worshipped, the robot was based on the deity, or somehow the deity manifested as the robot (like Primus in the Transformers comics) all offer possibilities. More than that, how would a culture view its deity being coopted by a colonial power?’

And not only the physical object stolen and cultural element coopted, but used as a weapon of war to, perhaps, expand its influence and territory, conquering more worlds.

I know, I’m reaching. Any maybe it doesn’t need the Power/Rangers treatment.

But I fellow can dream.

So, below is my take on an opening scene of a serious, live action Voltron film. (As serious as it can be titled Voltron.)



GENERAL HAWKINS stands at the window, looking over a futuristic city. Heavily-armed military vehicles move through the air. We can see battle damaged buildings and, further on, a deep crater.

Behind Hawkins, the door CHIMES.

HAWKINS (to the door)


The door slides open and CAPTAIN KEITH KOGANE enters. Fit, early thirties, he is a man who has seen hard combat, but he is a committed soldier who has not lost his optimism that he can win this war. He stands before Hawkins’ desk and offers a crisp salute.


Reporting as ordered, sir.

Hawkins returns the salute and motions to a chair. Keith and Hawkins sit across from one another.


How long have you been back on-planet, Captain?


About 5 hours, sir.


Don’t unpack. I have a mission for you and your team.

Hawkins presses a button on his desk and the hologram of an Earth-like planet appears above it.


This is the planet Arus. Know it?


No, sir.


It’s in the Gyrus Cluster.

Keith reacts to the name.


What do you know about the Cluster, Captain?


It’s a graveyard, sir.

Settlers reached it around 650 SE. Three core worlds and a handful of colonies.

It was cut off in the Second Drule Incursion in 809. There were two attempts to retake the Cluster, but both were pushed back by the Drule fleet. Around 40 years ago, a third attempt found the Cluster deserted. No sign of the Drule fleet and the core worlds had been nuked. Same with the colony planets they checked. Radiation made re-colonization impossible, so it was abandoned.


What you haven’t heard is five years ago we caught a freighter coming out of the Cluster. They called it salvage. We considered it grave robbing. But they said the colony on Arus had survived.

So we sent a ship to check. And found a colony that hadn’t just survived, but thrived. Agricultural, industry, government, arts and culture. Almost half a billion people in the middle of a graveyard. Cut off from the Alliance for over 400 years.


Keith considers this.


Either they made a deal with the Drule—


Which no other world has been able to do in over two hundred years of war.


Or they have some kind of advanced weapons system. Something that kept the Drule from Arus. Maybe even drove them from the Cluster.

Hawkins nods, impressed.


We’ve been getting our asses kick in the Dairugger system. If we get pushed out, seven more systems could fall. Something that could push the Drule from an entire cluster could change things.


We’re going to Arus, aren’t we sir?


We’ve had a diplomatic mission on-world for the last 6 months to re-establish relations. With them we’ve embedded intelligence operatives as cultural attachés. They’re learned the locals talk about a god named Voltron that could command five massive, mechanical lions to defend the planet.

Understanding dawns in Keith’s eyes.

HAWKINS (con’t)

No one has seen Voltron in decades. The only people who claim to have seen him were children when it happened. But they said they lions kept the Drule back.

Hawkins changes the holographic image. The planet is replaced by the head of PRINCESS ALLURA, a woman a little younger than Keith.


This is Princess Allura, sovereign of Arus. They’re a constitutional monarchy, so her power is limited, but she is quite popular with the people.

Yesterday, the Arus Parliament agreed to rejoin the Alliance and this morning Allura gave royal approval. As part of the Alliance, they’ve pledged to meet their obligations in placing military forces under Alliance control, but Allura denies that Voltron exists. ‘A myth,’ she said, ‘to rally the people.’

Her family crest is a lion within a five-pointed star, by the way.

Keith is intrigued by the mission. He stares at the confident gaze of the princess.


The diplomats don’t want to rock the boat. That’s where you and your team come in. Your mission, Captain, is to go to Arus and confront Princess Allura over the existence of the Voltron weapon system. If she agrees to turn it over, take command of it and arrange its transport to Earth.

If she doesn’t cooperate, you and your team are to locate Voltron, steal it and get it to Earth.


The Black Friday Executions

Another Black Friday come and gone, and America did not disappoint with pushing, shoving and fights breaking out. Not over clean water or the last spot on a vehicle that could take one out of a war zone. Nope, over shoes, electronics and who knows what else. At a discount.

As a fiction writer, my mind goes to odd places. And so inspired by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and movies The Purge and Series 7, I want to propose a fictional world where, once per year, we execute a rude, arrogant and aggressive person. Someone who has not committed a serious crime—we have that system in place. I mean those people who commit an on-going series of thoughtless, selfish actions.

Let’s take one of these people who thinks she can rip a box from the hands of a child (and then play the victim when the mother tries to take it back) and put them in the death chamber. Send the message that this kind of behaviour, which puts their wants (i.e., not needs) above the safety and well-being of others, has no place in our society. For our own protection, you have to die to serve as a warning to others.

Same would apply to aggressive drivers. While we all make mistakes from time to time, anyone with three or more moving infractions (e.g., drunk driving, speeding in a school zone, tailgaiting, excessive speed) is also up for execution. It’s luck, not the driver’s skill, that no one has been hurt by their reckless actions, so let’s see if we can’t nip it in the bud.

These executions would not happen for everyone; just one person per year. There would be due process, and I am in no way advocating vigilantism, but I think those of us who can keep it together have the right to defend ourselves. Since these selfish, violent bullies rarely have to worry about consequences, and often their actions result in rewards, let’s give them a reason to pause.

Of course, this is just an idea for a story, not reality. These bullies will continue to flourish, convinced of their own entitlement and superiority. Worst of all, they get to be seen as a hero for presenting the gift they wrestled away from someone else who was ahead of them in line.

(If you use this idea in a story, please drop me a line and let me know.)

In conclusion, here’s George Carlin.

How to Be a Good Moderator for Panel Discussions at Conventions

I’ve been told I’m a good moderator for panel discussions at conventions. Recently, I was asked to mentor someone moderating her first panel. I had intended to just outline a few ideas, but it turned into something much larger. Below are the thoughts that I shared, which I hope can prepare you to moderate a panel at a convention. While this was written for SF/F/H conventions, it can be used by anyone moderating any kind of panel.

These are just my thoughts, so your mileage may vary.

What is your role as the moderator?

A moderator is accountable to the audience. You are not there to serve the ego of panelists.

This is your role. Who gets to talk and who doesn’t.

The audience is attending your panel (yup, its yours) to hear a good discussion on a topic they’re interested in. You must deliver that. This means not letting:

  • One person dominate the conversation,
  • One point of view dominate the conversation, and
  • Some jackass in the audience dominate the conversation (more on this point below).

You are a traffic cop; the panelists provide the discussion. You make sure everyone gets their say while keeping the audience in check. Even if you have a world-renowned expert on the panel, the others deserve their share of the time.

You should be positive, fun and enthusiastic. It is your role to keep the energy up.

How much do you participate?

The moderator is not a panelist. You need to remain neutral and keep the conversation going.

This means keeping your opinions on a topic in check. (There is a special ring of hell for moderators who use their role to advance their own agenda.) You might think X, but Y and Z are also options that audience members might want to hear about. You must get X, Y and Z on the table.

But if there are only two other panelists, you might need to interject, but be clear that what you are saying is your opinion, and then jump back into your (neutral) moderator role.

If there are three panelists, you might be involved.

If there are four or more panelists, you are the traffic cop. There are enough opinions in play.

How To Prepare

Do a little research on your panelists. Know who they are. You don’t need to do exhaustive research; reading their bios on the convention website is often enough.

Have at least 5 questions prepared to ask the panel. Have them be open-ended, not questions someone can answer with “Yes” or “Five years.” Five questions should be enough to fill the panel (assuming it is an hour long).

Begin with introductions

I always begin panels by asking panelists to introduce themselves and then relate themselves to the topic. So something like “Tell us why you wanted to be on this panel” or “What interests you about this topic”. This helps let you know where they stand on the issue. In other words, are they “X”, “Y” or “Z”.

It also might give you fodder for more questions. Sometimes a panelist might say something in an offhanded way that sparks a whole new discussion.

Asking panelists to introduce themselves also lets you get a sense for their personalities—shy, soft-spoken, axe to grind.

Encourage panelists to speak

Let’s face it, we are a community of introverts. Some people might need to be coaxed to speak. If you have an audience member who has been silent, invite them to share an opinion. It could be that they have nothing to say, but make sure you give them the chance. “Jen, we haven’t heard from you. Any thoughts?”

Take notes during the panel

Take notes during the panel. They could give you ideas to keep the conversation going.

Take notes so you have ideas to keep the conversation going.

This is key. People will say something off the cuff, but it could be a great segue into another topic to discuss. Someone might mention something during their introduction you didn’t know which you can delve into later. “Wanda, earlier you said a zombie and vampire are the same basic monster, but what about the master vampire who retains her/his identity as an undead creature?” “Piotr, did your time in the army affect your writing?”

Keep the conversation on topic… Or don’t

Remember the audience is there to hear about the topic. If you are discussing Dr. Who, and you realize somehow the last 5 minutes have been about water on Mars, bring it back on topic. And you can just say “OK, to get back to Dr. Who” and chuckle as you say it. That is, unless the audience is into this new topic—leaning forward, asking questions, etc. In which case, you have to decide whether to let the discussion follow its course or bring it back on topic.

20 minute lull

When I first began moderating, I begin to worry at the 20 minute mark because I felt we weren’t going to make it through the full hour. If this happens, don’t panic—this happens. I don’t know why, but it does. I think that’s when the initial energy begins to fade. But then someone will say something, and you all will hit your second wind. And, you can always turn to the audience.

And if the panel runs out of gas early, admit it. Thank everyone and end the panel early.

Manage the audience

I’ve saved this topic for last because the audience will be your biggest challenge. There will always be someone who thinks they are on the panel and won’t shut up. So how do you to deal?

First, when starting the panel explain that the panel will talk for about 20 minutes or so, and then you’ll take questions. And be clear: To ask a question, put your hand up.

If someone just starts talking, cut them off (“Sorry, let’s hear her out” or “Hang out, I want to hear from the panel. We’ll take question is a bit.”) and go back to the panel. And remind people when you will be taking questions and how to ask.

As people put their hand up, acknowledge them. Even if a panelist is talking and/or you are not ready for their question, make eye contact with the audience member and give a nod or small wave to let them know you see them.

When you call on someone, be clear: “This gentleman in the Spider-Man hat.” “Yes, Poison Ivy at the back.” “Lady in the front row knitting me a scarf. It’s for me, right?”

If various people have their hands up, set up your order: “I’m going first to the gentleman with the beard at the back, then over to this lady with the stuffed TARDIS and then over to the Flash t-shirt.”

Vary who gets to speak. There will be one person with their hand up all the time. Make sure others are heard. Say things like “Yes, in the Sailor Moon boots, we haven’t heard from you yet” or to the person who keeps asking question “I see you have your hand up first, but let’s go over here. We haven’t heard from her yet.”

You'll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

You’ll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

Be prepared for someone who isn’t asking a question but making a statement. Or, it takes them 5 minutes of set up to get to their question. You don’t have time for that. If you sense someone is standing on their soapbox or is taking to long to ask a question, be direct: “I’m not hearing a question here” or “You need to get to your question because others have questions they’d like to ask.”

If you get the rude jackass who keeps interrupting, be direct. “Hang on, let’s hear from the panel” or “She wasn’t done speaking yet.” You might even need to go as far as saying “Excuse me, but you’ve been interrupting us. If you have a question or comment, please raise your hand.” The longer this person is allowed to interrupt, the more they will do it. So shut them down quickly.

Maybe you think this is being rude to an audience member, but remember (1) you are there for the entire audience, not just one person and (2) that one person is being very rude.

One of my proudest moments as a moderator was a woman who kept loudly interrupting the panel (and other audience members trying to ask a question). I tried to politely deflect her at first, but her behaviour persisted so I became more direct and told her to stop interrupting. So she raised her hand while someone was speaking, I nodded to let her know I saw her, but after five seconds of her hand in the air she screamed “FUCK YOU PEOPLE!” and stormed out. You might think it’s bad I pissed this person off so much, but her anger pales to the sum of the frustration of everyone else in the room. Her absence made the panel run smoother, fulfilling my obligation is to the audience as a whole.

Anything I missed?

If you have advice or suggestions for panel moderators, please put them in the comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback!

My CAN-CON 2015 Schedule

CAN-CON 2015—Ottawa’s original conference on SF/F/H—is coming up in Ottawa from October 30 to November 1. There will be readings, panel discussions and presentations, plus book launches and room parties. Registration is open and it’s $60 for the whole weekend with discounts for students.

A description of all the panels is up on their website. And you can download a PDF of the daily schedule. My schedule is below.

Something that is not listed are my Blue Pencil Cafés, which you have to sign up in advance for, but they are free for attendees. I hope you’ll sign up!


2:30PM: Workshop – Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats
I wrote a blog post with some more information on this workshop. Short version: creating tension means knowing how to structure a story and create threats to your hero. If you’re interested, you can register on the CAN-CON site. It’s $10 with a $1.25 service fee.

7:00PM: Live critic panel
Matt Moore, Kris Ramsey, James Bambury, Kevin Quirt, Agnes Cadieux
Come hear us crack wise about whatever the audiences says they love.

9:00PM: Bundoran Press/SFCanada Party
I’ll be attending. We’ll have to see how the evening goes, but I might be reading a snippet from “As Below, So Above” from Bundoran’s Second Contacts anthology.


10:00AM: Our Monsters are our Children
Matt Moore (m), Sean Moreland
Why do we love monsters, and what does that say about us?

3:00PM: Horror Reading: What is scaring the $#@% out of you?
Matt Moore (m), Peter Halasz
Looking for some good horror novels to read? Come check this out.

6:00PM: Extreme Weather Slapdown CANCELLED
Marie Bilodeau (m), Matt Moore, Eric Choi, Leah Petersen, Mark Robinson
Famed stormchaser Mark Robinson poses a severe weather event, and we authors have to create a story around it.

7:00PM: Scifi Cult movies (Buckaroo Banzai, Mystery Men, Repo Man, etc)
Ira Nayman (m), Timothy Carter, Matt Moore, Eric Choi
Why do we love them?

9:00PM: The ChiZine Publications’ Party
I will be there.


11:30AM: Reading
I’ll be reading “The Weak Son” from Tesseracts Thirteen. It’s an older piece, but one of my favourites to read aloud.

12:00PM: Contract, Contracts, Contracts – What’s a Good One?
Matt Moore (m), Matthew Johnson, Eve Langlais, David Hartwell, Caroline Frechette
Are you an author wondering what makes a good contract? Publishers and experienced authors will let you know what to expect, what to fight for, and what’s just crazy to ask for.

How to Write Monsters, Part Two: Fighting Them, and Monstrous Villains

In my last blog post, I talked about how to write monsters. That post came about when I was writing a story with a terrific monster, but an unsatisfying ending. I realized I was treating the monster too much like a villain. Once I realized it was a monster, and it needed some monster “rules”, did things fall into place.

The topics I covered last time were:

  • What’s the difference between a monster and villain?
  • A monster must be invoked instead of just showing up
  • The monster must be monstrous—both physically and morally upsetting to the natural order of things
  • The monster reflects the hero’s weakness, forcing the hero to fight harder than they ever have

In this post, I’ll take about how the hero fights back and even contradict myself to show that villains can be monstrous.

[Note: Below I am speaking in absolutes, but consider it advice. It’s just easier to write in absolute terms than conditional ones. Also, I use “hero”, but it’s a non-gender specific sense.]

The hero must be able to resist

While your monster is a serious threat to your hero, the possibility of victory must exist. Imagine Conan or Harry Potter fighting Godzilla—the battle would be over in moments. (Unless avada kedavra works on Godzilla, but such a short fight would not be a satisfying story.)


Here is how Jaws could have ended. If the people had stayed out of the water, Brody would not have had to go out to kill it.

You can run from Jason, barricade yourself against the zombie horde, stay out of the water or drive away from the tornadoes in Twister.

Lesson: The monster must present a near-hopeless situation. Some glimmer of hope motivates the hero to fight (or, at least, try to survive), which keeps the reader engaged.

The monster must have a weakness

A monster strikes at the hero’s weakness, but the hero must learn how to strike back. Searching for and exploiting a monster’s weakness makes up a good chunk of monster stories. Jason Voorhees can be confounded by his mother. Silver, garlic and sunlight are effective against several forms of monsters. The shark from Jaws was just a shark.

It great stories, the hero overcomes their own weakness in exploiting the monster’s. Chief Brody—with his fear of the water—killing the shark in Jaws from a stable, well-equipped boat is nowhere nearly as satisfying as him clinging to the mast of the sinking Orca.

Lesson: The monster’s power must be offset by a weakness. The path to find and exploit that weakness must lead straight through the hero’s own weakness.

A villain can be monstrous

I’ve been talking as if villains and monsters are two different things, but a villain can be monstrous.


John Doe, the killer from SE7EN, is both morally and physically monstrous. While he’s a villain, he has many monstrous qualities.

John Doe, from SE7EN, fits this bill. A villain of the highest order, he plots and schemes, seeing himself as a hero in a corrupt world. But to us his morality is monstrous. So is his self-mutilation to cut off his fingerprints. While he literally walks into the story, he is actually invoked by the daily immoral deeds we see (and commit) every day. His strength is his cunning, which strikes dead-center against Detective Mills’ weakness in seeing the killer (during the investigation) in the most simplistic terms. And Doe’s weakness lies in Mills’ ability to resist his urge to kill Doe. However, Mills cannot resist and his rage completes Doe’s monstrous plan.

Pinhead is another example. Clearly summoned, in some incarnations Pinhead is reactionary to his invocation. He has no plan other than to torture whoever summoned him. He is more a force of (super)nature than a scheming villain.

The demon from the The Exorcist is a better example. Clever and manipulative, its actions and very nature are monstrous. To say nothing of the physical effects it has on Regan McNeil. It is invoked by Regan and exploits at Father Karras’ weakness—his loss of faith.

As I’ve said, take all of this advice. But I hope these “rules” about how to write effective monsters gives you some tool you can use in your writing.

If I’ve missed something, please let me know!

Writing About Monsters, Part One: Powerful, but They’re Not Villains

Creating a good villain and a good monster in your story is not the same thing. I discovered this while writing a story with a terrific monster, but an unsatisfying ending. I realized I was treating the monster too much like a villain. Once I realized it was a monster, and it needed some monster “rules”, did things fall into place.

[Note: Below I am speaking in absolutes, but consider it advice. It’s just easier to write in absolute terms than conditional ones. Also, I use “hero”, but it’s a non-gender specific sense.]

What’s the difference between a monster and villain?

A villain is a person. (At least, it is person-like.) A villain  has consciousness and free will. It has motives, an agenda, and the ability to anticipate. It is the (proactive) hero of its own story.


Jason Voorhees is not so much a villain as a monster. He doesn’t plan or have an agenda, he just reacts.

A monster works on instinct or the laws of nature. It can be an animal (natural or not—a shark, a werewolf, Godzilla), the environment (e.g., tornadoes, a malfunctioning space ship) or even a person stripped of human qualities (e.g., Jason Voorhees). But, like all things in nature, it can learn and adapt.

Lesson: Your monster doesn’t start with a plan. It acts on instinct and, at first, is predictable. But to make your hero sweat, your monster must learn how to fight against the hero while still being animalistic.

A monster must be invoked

A monster just showing up and wreaking havoc can be fun. (A villain, though, has a motive. It is exactly where it wants to be at a precise time for a specific reason.) Think Godzilla, Night of the Living Dead or The Day After Tomorrow.

But having to invoke the monster adds a layer of guilt or responsibility to the story. Think of Pinhead’s puzzlebox (the Lament Configuration) or the Micmac cemetary. In some incarnations, a vampire must be invited into your home. Reckless campers, well aware of the legend of “Camp Blood”, still enter Jason’s domain.

Even Jaws has its invocation—splashing swimmers attract the shark. If the people of Amity had listened to Chief Brody and closed the beaches, the shark would have moved on.

Lesson: Through invocation, a hero deals with the monster and their own guilt. Invocation can also foreshadow how to destroy the monster. In more advanced stories, like Jaws, the hero must convince others that a seemingly harmless (or even necessary) action is the invocation.

The monster must be monstrous

We think of “monstrous” as big. But the origin of the word “monster” comes from the Latin indicating something is wrong with the natural order. That is, monsters stand in contrast to natural biology.


Pinhead is another monster with a very clear way to invoke him. Rather than have a plan, he reacts to those who summon him. He symbolizes unbridled lust, a taboo in our society.

But they also contrast our sense of right and wrong. Monsters are both physically and morally aberrant and abhorrent.

Godzilla—a massive, destructive beast—embodies our guilt (and comeuppance) for reckless nuclear testing. The relentless killer Jason Voorhees—disfigured and massive—was caused by teenage desire. One summons Pinhead in the pursuit of ultimate pleasure. (And don’t forget the original movie’s murder and infidelity.)

Lesson: When creating a monster, focus not only on its physical attributes but what taboo created it, or what taboo it embodies.

The monster reflects the hero’s weakness

A monster pushes your hero to their limits. The hero cannot defeat the monster at the beginning of the story, but grows and learns in order to win.

To push your hero, a monster must embody your hero’s weakness. Is your hero small or weak? The monster must be huge. If your hero has a simplistic outlook, the monster must be clever. Perhaps your hero cop has lived her whole life in the city; she must confront the monster in the depths of the forest.

In The Day After Tomorrow, the young protagonists are untrained for the climate shift, plus they are not in their home city. Jaws has Chief Brody as a former New York City cop with a fear of the water. Also in Jaws, the shark hunter Quint underestimates the shark’s cunning.

Lesson: When creating your hero and monster, find how the monstrous elements—physically and morally—exploit your hero’s limitations.

So, is that it?

No. There will be more about monsters coming in a later post. This next post focus on the hero and how he/she fights back. For now, I hope this helps.

Come to My Blue Pencil Café at CAN-CON 2015

CAN-CON, Ottawa’s SF/F/H convention on October 30 – November 1, 2015, is offering free Blue Pencil Cafés. And I will be taking part.

A Blue Pencil Café is a 15-minute one-on-one session with an established writer. You can talk about the business of writing, get your work critiqued, talk about inspiration or structure, or anything you want.

To sign up, you must be registered to attend CAN-CON. Then go the Blue Pencil Café registration page and pick which author you want to spend time with and the author you prefer. You can pick me or:

  • Marie Bilodeau – four-time Aurora nominated epic fantasy, space opera and horror author
  • Leah Bobet – Andre Norton and Aurora-nominated author
  • Nina Munteanu – science specialist and writing coach
  • Jay Odjick – comic book creator and TV producer
  • Linda Poitevin – bestselling romance and dark urban fantasy author
  • Dr. Robert Runté – SF Academic and editor at Five Rivers Publishing
  • Hayden Trenholm – Aurora-winning author and editor, publisher of Bundoran Press
  • Ed Willet – This year’s guest of honour and author with DAW, Croteau Books and Bundoran Press

I hope to see you there!

Writing workshop: “Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats” at CAN-CON on Oct. 30 in Ottawa

I will be teaching a 2-hour writing workshop on how to keep readers on the edges of their seats before the official start of CAN-CON, Ottawa’s SF/F/H convention coming up October 30 – November 1, 2015.

This workshop is one of four workshops being run before the convention officially starts, so you won’t miss any programming by attending. Even if mine doesn’t sound interesting, check out the others.

If you’re interested, here’s the short version:

  • WHEN: Friday, October 30, 2015
    2:30 – 4:30
  • WHERE: Sheraton Ottawa Hotel (Room TBD)
    150 Albert Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
  • HOW: Register online
    Space is limited
    You do not need to register with the con to attend
    No same-day registration
  • COST: $10 plus $1.25 service fee

Why should I take this workshop?

This workshop is for writers of all genres who want their stories to be page-turners that readers can’t put down. If you have been getting rejections or feedback like “Started too slow” or “Just didn’t grab me”, this workshop is for you.

There’s more to maintaining tension than just writing short, clipped sentences, the “ticking clock” or cutting between scenes. Stories, and the scenes within them, have a structure. (And do not confuse structure, which is descriptive, with formula, which is prescriptive.) That is, we are introduced to a scene, something changes for our characters, and they move on to the next scene. This can involve saving the universe or looking for their car keys. To create tension, you need to understand how the pieces of this structure work—plot, pacing, characters, conflict, etc.

We’ll look at things like:

  • How to end a scene in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading, but by giving a pay-off and not “cheating”?
  • What kind of threats and challenges can you throw at the main character that aren’t tired, clichéd or too easy?
  • Who or what is working against your main character?
  • What is on the line if your main character fails?

There is limited space and you have to register in advance online. You won’t be able to register at the convention.

I hope to see you there!

Upcoming Appearances

ChiSeries Ottawa Presents Max Gladstone, Brett Savory & Rich Larson - Host
April 4, 2017
Royal Oak, Laurier @ uOttawa
161 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, ON
Ad Astra - Panelist
May 5 – 7, 2017
Sheraton Parkway North
Richmond Hill, ON
Ottawa Comiccon - ChiZine Publications Dealers Table
May 12 – 14, 2017
EY Centre
Ottawa, ON
Limestone Genre Expo - Panelist
June 3 – 4, 2017
St. Lawrence College
​Kingston, ON
CAN-CON - Panelist
Oct. 13 – 15, 2017
Sheraton Hotel
Ottawa, ON

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