100 Years on a Toronto Streetcorner

Time from Kwan on Vimeo.

The Fox’s Tale- Now Available on Kindle!

A disgraced musketeer without hope. An orphaned native child. A new frontier.

This collection of interconnected short stories follows fugitive Musketeer of the Black Gerard la Russo and his daughter Renard as they navigate life in New France (Canada) at the dawn of the 18th century.

Come get them while they’re hot!

I’ve released a Kindle version of my “Fox Cycle” stories under the title The Fox’s Tale for 99 cents (but free for Amazon Select customers). Funny, tragic, heartwarming and thrilling, these ten stories of a father and daughter trying to navigate life between old worlds and new will bring a smile to your face and a make your heart skip a few beats.

I apologize to my readers on other platforms, I’m going to hold out on the other e-book platforms for now, as I’m trying out Amazon Select to see if it makes a difference. It requires that I be Amazon exclusive while I’m trying it out. Sorry.

Rob

Creative Challenges: The Fox Cycle

I think it’s good for writers to challenge themselves, it helps them grow.

Back in January of this year, I picked up an amazing book for (script)writers called Save the Cat! by scriptwriting guru Blake Snyder. I’d heard about it online, tracked down a copy at the local bookstore, and poured through it to discover it wasn’t as good as advertised it was better. So much better. (So if you haven’t read it and you’re a writer of fiction, go buy a copy- NOW!)

Among Snyder’s revelations was his theory that all movies can be broken down into ten different types, and that when writing a story, a writer should have one of these types in mind to know what exactly it is they’re writing.  This makes a lot of sense when you consider that most movies are only about 110 minutes long, at a minute of film per page of script. 110 pages of script isn’t a lot of time to work with when you actually get into it, so stories of movies must be concise and focussed or you get an unfocussed mess.

When I started to think through his list, I both agreed with it, and found it quite liberating. What he’d done was not just condense standard types of movie stories, but also stories in general, and each of them caused ideas for stories to pop into my head. While they might be a little simplistic for novel plots (or maybe not), these seemed to work especially well for short stories.

So, having just finished The Inuyama Rebellion fiction serial over on my Kung Fu Action Theatre site, and looking for more content to keep the site active, I decided to set myself a little creative challenge. Of course, there had to be rules, which were:

1)      I would write 10 short stories, one for each of Snyder’s ten story types.

2)      I would make all the stories Flash Fiction: 1000 words or less in length, since I was at the start of what looked to be a very busy semester.  This was an added challenge to me because I had very rarely written such short fiction (most of my stories tend to be around 7,000-10,000 words long) and didn’t think I was very good at it.

3)      Each story had to be complete and stand-alone.

I also decided that I needed a unified theme, so I dusted off a character idea I’d had about a young First Nations girl in New France adopted and raised by a former Musketeer and decided to use that as the focus. Of course, this meant I was adding both historical research and language issues (Je ne parle pas francais!) to the challenge, but I decided since it was flash fiction it would be light on the details anyways so I could fudge it as needed. (HA!)

And then, on top of that, a few weeks after I started the project, I got into the DAZ Studio 3D art program, and decided that I should incorporate 3D art into the challenge as well as a way to teach myself DAZ. This required slowly buying up the elements I needed for different scenes, and then composing them into something that worked with the characters and stories. A whole huge challenge unto itself!

So, I got to add:

4)      Write in a new, unfamiliar historical setting about completely new characters.

5)      Generate 3D art to go with each story using a new art program I barely knew how to work.

As you can tell, I like my challenges easy.

I decided to call it The Fox Cycle (as in, a cycle of stories, not a fox on a motorcycle) and posted the first one at the end of January with the intent of posting a new one every Monday for ten weeks.

So, how’d it go?

Well, I didn’t quite pull off the one-a-week schedule for many reasons I won’t bother to go into, but this week I posted the tenth and final story in the cycle

You can judge for yourself how it all turned out. From my side, I think some of the stories came out really well, while others are just so-so. I consistently impressed myself with my own ability to both condense the stories down to 1000 words, and to keep each one interesting and different from the others.  I was also surprised how much humor leaked into the stories.

I learned a lot about the characters, which grew organically as I wrote each story, and the setting grew as well. I’d hoped to use this project to explore and develop this story and setting for other larger future projects, and it worked beyond my expectations. I now have a very firm idea of my characters and the world they live in, one which I couldn’t possibly fit into the small space of the cycle, but which I hope to explore in the near future with other, longer works.

My own writing skills have also improved as a result of being forced to write such short, tight prose. It was a challenge at first, but now that I’m used to it I wonder why my other stories tended to be so long! I’d say this challenge has really helped me in thinking through my own personal writing style by forcing me to keep words to a minimum, and it’s also made me rethink how I frame the stories I write.

On the art side, I’ve learned how to master the basics of both DAZ Studio 4.0 and GiMP because of this project, and I’m quite happy with how some of the art turned out. I’ve never considered myself a visual artist, and still don’t, but I have started to gain a deeper understanding of how a picture is composed, the importance of lighting, and how much work it takes to make a good picture.

 

Would I do it again?

I’m not sure.

It’s one of those artistic challenges that’s good to go through as a rite of passage, but I’m not sure I’m going to be interested in doing it again anytime soon. It was a great way to develop this new setting to write in, and force myself to learn, so I might give it another go at some point in the future. It’s definitely a challenge that I’d recommend to someone else to try, although you might want to drop the visual art element and just focus on the writing and characters.

 

Appendix:

For those familiar with Blake Snyder’s Ten Types and who wonder how my stories correspond to them, here’s the breakdown:

1)      The Musketeer (Dude With a Problem)

2)      The Eyes of a Warrior (Buddy Love)

3)      The Elders of Ville Marie (The Fool Triumphant)

4)      The Bodyguard (Out of the Bottle)

5)      The Beating (Whydunit)

6)      Identity (Institutionalized)

7)      Home (Golden Fleece)

8)      Rennie’s Wedding (Rite of Passage)

9)      The Troll (Monster in the House)

10)   Hero (Superhero)

I leave it you, my readers, to decide the degree to which I failed or succeeded in living up to each of the different types. I think I hit a few dead-on, and came close with a few others. My favorites of the set are Eyes of a Warrior, The Bodyguard, Rennie’s Wedding, and Hero. The ones I’m not quite as happy with are The Musketeer, Identity and Home.

Stop Certifying New Teachers in Ontario

In London, Ontario right now if you want to become an elementary or high school teacher, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Do four years of undergraduate university education in your major of choice. ($40,000 basic tuition)
  2. Go to teacher’s college for one year (or more for some specialties) to get your certification. ($10,000 basic tuition)
  3. Get certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. (Start paying $138 a year for membership.)
  4. Apply to get on the waiting list to become a supply teacher in the Thames Valley School board. (Which covers much of our section of Ontario).
  5. Wait 1-2 years to get on the list (for no pay).
  6. Get on the list, and become a supply teacher. (Find out if you actually LIKE teaching.)
  7. Spend 1-2 years (or more) on the supply list, while working nearly random hours where you may not make money for days, months, or weeks. (Oh, and you can’t take other jobs during school hours because it means you’re not available to teach at the drop of a hat.)
  8. Succeed in sucking up to local principals and people who are influential in the system.
  9. Apply for jobs as they come up. (If they come up.)
  10. Get a job with the system.
  11. Spend 3 years as a probationary teacher with the school principal or VP looking over your shoulder while you show them your lesson plans and undergo reviews.
  12. Teach.

From Step 1-4 will take you approximately 5 years (not counting multiple tries to get into teacher’s college) and you will graduate with a minimum of $50,000 of student loans- if you did it all through loans. (And that’s just tuition and books)

You then get to shoulder that $50,000+ for 2-4 years with little to no income, while making monthly payments on top of trying to survive in HOPES of getting a teaching job, which may never come. After which, you hit the goldmine and get to make $42,000 a year, while paying that debt off and trying to survive.

How did this monstrosity of a system occur? Well, you see, here in Ontario there are several factors at play right now:

  • Ontario’s Teachers Colleges (alone) are pumping out at least 9,000 new teachers a year. (Plus the ones returning from the US or Australia where they did their training instead.)
  • Ontario’s population isn’t having children.
  • School boards have less money due to recessions.
  • Schools are being closed and consolidated because of dropping student populations in many areas.
  • Baby Boomer teachers are retiring, but their jobs are going to other experienced teachers from their school or schools being closed and consolidated.

So, the end result is that we have a system in Ontario glutted with new teachers, 2/3rds of which have minimal prospects of finding a job, even if they do manage to survive the process.

Does this sound healthy to you? Or like a good system?

So, what can we do about it?

Well, I lived in another country that had a similar problem- Taiwan- an island nation with a shrinking youth population which was pumping out a glut of new teachers each year who had almost no hope of employment. There, the government did the most responsible (not to mention ballsy) thing they possibly could have done- they put a moratorium on certifying new teachers for a period of several years.

Yep, no new teachers could be certified in Taiwan for several years. That let the system work itself out and the excess number of teachers to drop because it gave the people who were already certified the time they needed to find jobs as the older ones retired.

That’s also what I propose Ontario do right now. Tell the Ontario College of Teachers to stop certifying new teachers in Ontario until such time as there are jobs for new teachers to fill. Without membership in OCT, you can’t teach, so this effectively means no more new teachers for the already massively overloaded system.

The teachers colleges don’t need to close, and people can still get their credentials, but they can’t teach here in Ontario and will need to look elsewhere (other provinces or countries) if they want to follow that path. It’s my experience that people who truly have a passion for teaching will still find ways to teach anyways, and those who were just looking for a public sector job will look elsewhere and forget the whole idea.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

Canadian Tories admit that Canadians don’t want DRM rules, push for them anyway – Boing Boing

I’m hoping this one will get struck down ASAP by the Supreme Court once it hits, since there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it. Sigh. This is a government that knows its own people hate something with a passion but is going to shove it down their throats anyways in the name of American corporate interest groups. All of you who voted for the Conservatives, remember this- you chose these guys.

Canada’s Parliament is debating bill C-11, the latest incarnation of a “modernisation” copyright bill, which contains a very controversial US-style “digital locks” (DRM) rule. Under C-11’s digital locks rules, it would be illegal to remove any sort of anti-copying technology, even if you’re doing so for a lawful purpose. For example, if a store sold you one of my books with DRM on it, I, as the rightsholder, couldn’t authorise you to remove the digital locks (it would even be illegal for me, the creator of the book, to remove the digital lock!).

via Canadian Tories admit that Canadians don’t want DRM rules, push for them anyway – Boing Boing.