Epigrams

September 20, 2016

epigramHello everyone,

I believe I have mentioned several times both on this blog and via Twitter that I am active redditor. I don’t think I would be surprising anyone by saying one of the subreddits I frequent is /r/writing, which puts me in touch with other writers all over the world to talk about our craft. Yesterday someone asked, “Do you have a quote/song lyric/poem at the beginning of your book?” The general consensus seemed to be it usually does more harm than good, but I do include a couple of quotes at the start of each of my novels. I read and write historical fiction, and the little extras like epigraphs, maps, and end notes from the author are pretty common in that genre. I went on to list the quotes I used for each book and why I chose them, and within six hours I had received a message from someone who bought one of my books based on my post.

Well, that certainly got my attention!

Several times on this blog I have talked about why I wrote something or how I wrote something, so why not take that random post on reddit and expand upon it here?

Cover_ImprovedLet me begin by saying for each of my three novels to date I have made a point of sourcing two quotes that I believe reference my plot and help fit my book into a larger literary space. For Inca I went with:

“Explain your words so that I can understand them.
They are like a tangled skein.
You should put the threads in order for me.”

— Act 1, Scene I of the Quechua play Ollantay

and

“Tempus edax rerum.”
Time, the devourer of all things.

— Ovid

I chose them because the book’s premise is an Inca bureaucrat translating his memoirs into Spanish before his story is lost to time. The Inca had a record-keeping system of knotted string called quipus, so using a line from an old Peruvian play about putting the tangled threads in order is a direct reference to what the narrator is doing as he tells his story. For a long time I toyed with the idea of actually calling the book The Tangled Skein, but eventually I decided that would be a very poor choice from a marketing perspective. Still, I know these two quotes have resonated with my readers. A couple years back I even received an email from one man saying he planned to get, “Tempus edax rerum” tattooed on his arm.

That was not an eventuality I envisioned when I first starting writing the book!

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Why and How I Wrote Beginning

September 2, 2016

Cover - FinalHello again everyone,

Shortly after publishing Inca I wrote a blog post explaining what led me to write about that empire and its people. A year later when I published Zulu I blogged about what drew me to the story of that kingdom and its people. I suppose now that Beginning is in the process of going live across the various regional Amazon websites, the time has come to talk about why I wrote this book.

Unlike Inca and Zulu, where my interest was first sparked by looking for more information about a civilization I did not know much about, Beginning began with me being self-conscious about my work. I suspect most writers after they have written a couple of books start worrying their stuff is all of a type, and maybe not the type they would have chosen if they had to do it over again. I have written two lengthy novels about cultures that are relatively little-known to my friends and family. If I wanted to write something much shorter with a broader appeal, what would that look like?

Inca and Zulu, much as I love them, ask for a lot of a reader’s time and attention. You cannot do a deep dive into the history and culture of people who most people are unfamiliar with while worrying about word count. They are by necessity long and dense. If I was free to write something where I knew my readers would understand everything from page one, what would I write about?

I have come up with half a dozen answers to that question so far, and most of them exist as a hundred pages or so of abandoned first draft material. One of the primary hurdles about completing a novel –long or short—is that you have to be excited about the subject matter and the plot and the characters for months and probably years of research and writing before you have a finished first draft to start editing and polishing. There were a lot of false starts as I searched for something I was sure I would finish. For maybe two years I despaired of finishing a third novel for want of an idea I knew would hold my interest.

I firmly believe writers need to read widely and deeply to develop their own craft. One of the most flattering things I have seen in the reviews for Inca is when someone says they can see some of Gary Jennings’ Aztec in my own work. Zulu was very much inspired by the early few decades of Wilbur Smith’s work. So who should I take as my muse for my third novel? Who writes the shorter novels that I adore?

I cast about through a few options, but again and again I kept coming back to Kurt Vonnegut.

Let me say categorically that Beginning is not a Kurt Vonnegut-esque novel, much to my regret. I lack his brevity and his wit. I am just telling the story of how I got started, and I started with Vonnegut.

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My Third Novel is Now Published on Amazon

August 26, 2016

Cover - FinalHello everyone,

My last blog post was about a year ago now. I apologized at the time, saying I was working on another writing project that was more important to me. It is with great pleasure that I return to this blog, then, to say I have now completed my third novel, Beginning. The e-book version is available on Amazon as of this post, and I expect the trade paperback version to be available sometime next week.

I am very happy with how this novel came together. One of my proofreaders called it, “Some of your best writing, and certainly your most accessible,” which has to be the nicest way anyone can say that Inca and Zulu can be a little dense for people who do not read historical fiction on a regular basis.

I will be blogging on a regular basis for the foreseeable future to support this book, so I suppose I do not need to say everything all at once. As long as I am blogging, I also have some other ideas for content that might be fun to share on this site. We will see how those ideas develop, I am sure.

One thing I would like to encourage people to do if you are reading this blog because you enjoy my novels, please join The Novels of Geoff Micks page I set up on Facebook. I share pictures and links there that will not appear on this blog, and comments on that page board go through to my phone where I will actually engage with them, rather than the WordPress comments section that I clean out once ever six months or so.

Anyway, you can expect to hear a lot from me in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, best regards and have a great day!

–Geoff


An Apology, an Update, Fifty Ideas that Could Have Been, and What is Still to Come

September 4, 2015

shrugHello again everyone,

Well, here I stand with metaphorical egg on my face. Back in April I made a rather bold promise to start this blog up again with at least some attempt at regularity, and I contributed an impressive total of three posts to the archives before the site went dark again for four months and more. Strictly speaking I suppose I owe anyone who actually follows this thing an apology, but in the bigger picture I’m guessing the majority of you are doing so because you enjoy my writing, so I’m going to temper my mea culpa with some exciting news: I have probably done more writing in the last five months than in the last five years. You haven’t seen it because it’s the first draft of my third novel, and even in the 21st Century by and large you don’t put lengthy excerpts of your first drafts online when you’re still figuring out what you’re doing with them –Fifty Shades of Grey notwithstanding.

So what am I going to do with this blog moving forward? I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet. The trouble with writing for this thing is it takes me away from my next book(s), and in the grand scheme of things I’m going to be happier writing that than anything I write here. I guess the answer in the short term is this blog is returning to the back burner until I have a bad day with my big project while still feeling like puttering around with some ‘fun’ writing. Anyone who has ever suffered writers’ block is probably chortling at how often that’s ever going to come up.

Anyway, for the sake of demonstrating that I do think about this blog from time to time with some lingering guilt, here are fifty blog post ideas that I’ve kicked around in passing but will likely never get around to actually writing in full. Many of them were flippant, but some were deadly serious. I leave it to you to guess which is which. Have fun with that.

  1. Rob Ford is too sick to run for mayor of Toronto and lose, but he’s well enough to run for his old ward where he’s guaranteed to win. Where’s my pitchfork and torch?
  2. People who can’t believe it’s not butter are far too credulous. How can we exploit that?
  3. “Hey!” (Pronounced ‘Hay!’) “Straw’s cheaper. Grass is free!” and other conversations I had with my father as a child that I did not understand at the time but now fully intend to have with my own future children
  4. I joined a monthly writers’ group, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Here’s everything we are doing in embarrassing and excruciating detail…
  5. Johnny Cash’s 92nd album was called The Personal File. It’s all the stuff his record companies never let him put out when they called all the shots, and it is bloody brilliant!
  6. Everyone who waits in lines for rollercoasters should take a yo-yo with them and practice their skills while they wait. That’s a fad waiting to come back in a big way.
  7. You hate Windows 8? I hate Windows 8 too! We should hang out. A rant against Microsoft’s hubris with a nod to Mike Judge’s under-appreciated gem Idiocracy.
  8. Three years ago or so I reviewed 80% of an international art project producing weekly covers of the entire Beatles discography in various genres by almost 200 artists while always involving a ukulele. Here’s my thoughts on the last 20%.
  9. Writing is like riding a bicycle: You never really forget how to do it, but you also don’t tell anyone when you fall on your face after going back to it after a number of years without regular exercise…
  10. The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta is not a museum: It’s a place of focused and calculated propaganda, but it was all built around making people happy. Is that evil? I don’t know, but I’ve been drinking a lot more Coca-Cola products since spending three hours there in February…
  11. Bored of beer? Tell people you want to learn more about bourbon and watch the free bottles drift into your home on waves of good will!
  12. My barber retired –or he may have gone blind: The sign on his door was ambiguous. Is there still such a thing as a small-town barber in a big city like Toronto?
  13. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is a worthy successor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It may even surpass it. Yes! I said it…
  14. The last two winters in Toronto were among the coldest in recorded history, so of course I was dating a woman from San Diego the whole time. Now that she and I have parted ways, can we please have one of those mild winters where the rest of Canada says we’re not really Canadian?
  15. The NDP just won a majority in Alberta. I’m not sure I can properly communicate how unlikely that is, and I have no idea what comes next. Shall we run through a few options together?
  16. I miss reading books for fun: Why researching historical fiction is sometimes a drag, and how to find the joy in reading a book an 80-year-old nerd wrote to impress his friends and torture undergrads.
  17. Al Gore guilt-tripped me into going without air conditioning in my home. Here’s why I only think about that for three weeks a year.
  18. Canada’s economy lives and dies by the commodity markets, and I can’t name you a commodity we have at the moment that isn’t in the middle of a once-in-a-generation slump. Let’s talk about BRIC countries in the current political and economic realities, and afterwards we’ll laugh that we did this on WordPress.
  19. Once upon a time no one had ever heard of Reddit. I suffer hipster-angst because I’ve been a daily visitor since before it was cool…
  20. My local pub for four and a half years closed without warning. I am a Norm without his Cheers.
  21. Hawksley Workman and The Weakerthans: My favourite Canadian artists who never made it in America, and are therefore still ours body and soul. Rush and The Tragically Hip are still awesome, as well. I’ll even include BNL too if you can ignore the break up.
  22. Life Hack: Skip spring cleaning and go out of town for a week in the summer. Let your mother use your apartment as base camp for a girl’s week in the city while you’re away. When you come back –in the immortal words of The Lego Movie—Everything is Awesome!
  23. Once upon a time my mother took me to church as a kid and then left me to make my own mind up. Later I went to church as an adult for a couple of years before I stopped. Here are the pros and cons of my ever going back again, and #7 will surprise you! (Buzzfeed and BusinessInsider, don’t you dare poach this off me without accreditation!)
  24. Renting a cottage up north for a week with three professional chefs: Their slumming it is the best camping food I will ever eat.
  25. Canadian craft beers and the lost recipes from the 1940s –Just kidding! I’m not going to write anything that involves research for a long while that doesn’t feed into my next book. Or could I make that a chapter? No, too niche…
  26. Once upon a time I put together a list of my 11 favourite writers of historical fiction, but I only blogged about four or five of them before life caught up with me. Now I can’t remember who the rest of the list was going to be, but I guess I’ll take a stab at it and bluff my way through?
  27. Now that I’m far enough into my thirties to lord it over my younger twenty-something self, here’s what that little punk didn’t understand about the world. (This is going to be good!)
  28. Hey, Canada? Now that we’re all pretty sure Jian Ghomeshi is a creep, can I still enjoy Moxy Früvous for what it was in the 1990s?
  29. They say everyone in my generation is likely to have five different careers before retirement. This is why I’m starting my third.
  30. I started off researching magic for an episode in a book I’m writing, and now I can’t stop watching Penn & Teller videos on YouTube. Send help!
  31. Since the last time I was single the online dating world has gone insane. Why does every woman have the same five pictures? There’s a group shot where you can’t tell whose profile it is, a shot of someone jumping on a beach silhouetted by the sun, another where she’s standing next to a hopefully sedated predator (ideally a tiger), a formal shot where her last boyfriend has a well-toned arm around her, and a tight headshot taken up almost entirely by face-hiding sunglasses. Did she write anything in her profile? Of course not…
  32. Mad Max: Fury Road is probably the best-realized action movie and chase movie of my generation. How many awards should it win, how many will it win, and what does that say about awards in the film industry?
  33. Dance like no one is watching works best when you are alone and no one is watching. Here’s a playlist, you knucklehead you! Be careful: There is a surprising amount of profanity that the neighbours might hear…
  34. Wait, we care about baseball in August? What the hell has happened to the Blue Jays for the first time in 22 years? (To be honest, I’m less interested in blogging about his than reading blogs about this…)
  35. The (almost certainly in-) complete song list of what I’ve done at karaoke joints in the last 13 years. Be gentle: It’s my 1000th-ish time.
  36. My grandmother just turned 90. Here’s an extensive list of the things she does, says, and believes. Number twelve is where she goes too far. (Again I’m watching you, Buzzfeed and BusinessInsider!)
  37. He called it a doorstop in the making: When your ballooning five-act novel should become a trilogy of three shorter novels, and how to put a positive spin on things.
  38. Then what happened? How a backyard BBQ in Scarborough was visited by an owl, a fox, a lemur, a tortoise, a kangaroo, and much more!
  39. Twitter just might be useless, but I love it all the same. Here’s why most people hate it, and why they’re wrong, wrong, wrong. (I’ll be devastated if that doesn’t fit into the arbitrary 140 characters…)
  40. My new job is one block from St. Lawrence Market. How long will I last before I just start buying oysters as part of my grocery shopping? #Toronto (That’s right! I use hashtags in blog post titles now. Welcome to the mid-Twenty-Tens my friend!)
  41. Persian Poetry: How possibly the whitest brown-haired boy you’ll ever meet accidentally became a fan of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and Omar Khayyam.
  42. Losing my religion: What no longer having a neighbourhood pub has done to my free time and my neighbourhood social network.
  43. Every other blog is wrong: LinkedIn is not about finding a job; it’s about keeping track of people who move from job to job to job over the course of their careers.
  44. As a young man my best friend said only little kids wear ball caps. He wears ball caps all the time now. Should I call him a hypocrite at my soonest opportunity, or document his countless selfies for a while and save up his hypocrisy for some kind of wedding reception or awards ceremony speech slideshow that might be many years off yet?
  45. Working with people who care about sports: A bluffer’s guide to having a two- to five-minute anecdote for any conversation about athletics and then artfully allowing your compatriots to take over all further dialogue until they change the subject.
  46. Slow cooking in August: A masochist for steaming appliances can still make a pretty amazing stew in the middle of summer for a few dollars’ worth of ingredients.
  47. The Canadian National Exhibition in the 21st Century: How the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers remember The Ex, and why today’s Toronto should nod patiently as they’re talking while still having our own fun after they’re done.
  48. So my sister and my parents are going to live in the same city for the first time in a dozen years: A tutorial in creating new excuses not to visit the small town you grew up in as narrated by your host, Geoff Micks.
  49. Can we clone Bill Burr and train the two Bill Burrs to box one another with the winner immediately delivering a half-hour of new material over the prone figure of his vanquished foe? Because that would gross more that the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight…
  50. A sentence-by-sentence breakdown of James Joyce’s immortal ‘surely no one will ever put up with this nonsense’ classic Ulysses, because of course I am both a fan and have so much time on my hands that I’m happy to do the leg-work for everyone else’s final essay. Also my sarcasm has been known to burn small children in close proximity without the benefit of goggles and gauntlets. Let’s be honest: No one is reading Ulysses for fun. Rise up, young men and women! If you all say the Emperor wears no clothes, maybe the English Literature department of your local post-secondary institutions will finally turtle up and move on to something that isn’t an Irishman’s equivalent of MTV’s Punk’d for the Lost Generation. Bonus points if your professor published an unappreciated (read: awful) gem when he was in his twenties that you can pick apart instead!

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My (Belated) Favourite 13 Tweets of 2013 and 14 Tweets of 2014

May 4, 2015

twitterjailHello everyone!

So the last time I was active on this blog, it was an annual tradition of mine to pick out my favourite tweets of the previous year as my first post of the New Year. Here are the posts for 2010, 2011, and 2012, if you have the interest.

Anyway, as I mentioned in April, I am starting up this blog again after a two-year hiatus, and I suppose that means I should go through the archives of @faceintheblue to see what jumped out to me. I’m skipping over a lot of my fury and scorn and disbelief and despair over Toronto’s former mayor Rob Ford for the sake of making this post more interesting to a general audience. I have also adjusted my rules a little from previous summaries: I’m no longer trying to evenly separate my selections across the calendar year –if I had four great tweets in November, why not highlight all of them?– and I’m also adding more explanatory notes where some context will be helpful.

Anyway, here are my favourites of the last couple of years. Enjoy!

My Favourite 13 Tweets of 2013

January 1

I just asked a fellow where he was for the Year 2000 ball drop. “In prison.” I changed the subject. #NewYear

February 21

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” How do I become an arriving streetcar, Gandhi? It’s freezing out here! #Toronto

April 5

Okay, solid weather this morning, April. Good effort, nice hustle. Now give me ten laps and don’t you dare cool down or hit the showers!

June 13

Ah, buying beer from a corner store. Are you watching, Ontario? Did you note the lack of fire and brimstone smiting one of your citizens?

(I was in Colorado running a mining conference. On principle, I bought a six pack of local beer from a corner store, a luxury that will likely never be made available to me in my native province.)

August 2

Sometimes life’s stories don’t fit in 140 characters: Yada Yada Yada; Hide-a-key; Yada Yada Yada; I slept in a hallway last night.

September 7

The bouncer at a bar pointed out my driver’s license says I’m 170cm tall. I guess I was when I was 16? I’m over 190cm at 30. He bounced me.

November 1

Trapped in the elevator for 30 minutes with 5 coworkers and a mailman. I was THIS close to leading them in song to keep their spirits up.

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The rules to what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker”

April 20, 2015

cropped_fishing_photo

Hello again everyone!

I thought I’d start off my return to regular blogging talking about something near and dear to my heart: Hanging out with my father and his cronies during the annual fishing weekend. It began more than thirty years ago when a group of young men would help each other open a cottage in the spring or close it for the fall over the course of a long weekend, and it has evolved into an excuse to get together and spend some guy time away from the wives and kids. There’s golfing, and fishing, and telling the same tall tales the grow with each year’s repetition, and of course a healthy dose of eating and drinking like they still have the metabolism of twenty-somethings. They’re a cool bunch of guys, and I could go on at some length about how much fun we have, but for the sake of talking about something specific, I want to talk today about something we do every year that I never see anywhere else: We play what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker.”

fish_storyNow when most people of my generation talk about poker, they’re talking about Texas Hold’em. I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe Hold’em first rose to prominence in my imagination during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. Canadian television was a wasteland that winter as station after station scrambled to fill all the airtime we normally spent watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose, the Ottawa Senators choke, and Vancouver and Montreal whip themselves into a rioting fury whether they win or lose. Someone seized upon the bright idea of televising no limit Texas Hold’em tournaments as a cheap airtime filler, and before you know it every young man with at least four friends was organizing a get-together where he could push all his chips into the center while trying to deadpan, “All in.” I had a lot of fun with that as a young man, and without claiming to be any good at it, I won more than I lost. I enjoy Texas Hold’em a lot, and I can get my father and his friends to play it from time to time, but it’s not their game at all. For them, Texas Hold’em emerged as the king of Poker when they had already been playing poker for thirty years. They’re loyal to their way of doing things, and more power to them!

So what exactly is “Old Man Poker”? Speaking in broad terms, it’s the traditional poker games that would not have been out of place in a Legion Hall basement in the Fifties and Sixties. Everyone gets a turn as dealer, and each dealer calls his own game after anteing for the privilege. A dealer who starts describing his game of choice without putting his money down is met with a chorus of clearing throats and requests for him to speak up because no one can hear him. It’s a rule that mystifies the non-regulars at the table, but everyone learns in time.

Anyway, all manner of stud and draw games are welcome, and some truly rare and magical variations have been created over the years as well. My Dad’s crowd plays a friendly game with between twenty and thirty bucks in coins each. A dime is the traditional wager in each betting round, with a nickel almost automatically raised on principle and pennies not welcome. Twenty-five cents is big money, and the maximum raise per round is fifty cents. That said, many of these games have ten or twenty betting rounds, so folding money does trade hands over the course of the night. A player who goes bust is allowed to play on without anteing on the understanding that when they start winning again, they start paying again. It’s a pretty solid way to guarantee everyone will have a good time for the entire evening.

Here are a selection of some of the games that a dealer may choose from:

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Starting this blog up again

April 19, 2015

Hello everyone,

bluedustydeskAfter a hiatus of more than two years, I have decided to get back into blogging. I don’t know how often I’ll update this site, but I have begun writing again in earnest, and this was always a great forum for me to change pace and work on something different.

When this blog was good, it was very good. The post about presidential knife-fighting became a runaway hit, with more than 300,000 views to date. I imagine I’ll try to do something equally hair-brained in the future if I ever hope to see those numbers again. I’m also delighted that so many readers of my two novels, Inca and Zulu, have come to this site to learn more about how and why I wrote them. You can definitely expect to see more of that, and hopefully my renewed enthusiasm for seeking our the elusive and possibly mythical third novel will offer much grist for the mill.

There are a few things that I did not do in 2009 through 2012 that I will likely do now: I can see this blog being a space for me to talk about current issues and events as I see them, and so moving forward I will not be so worried about the longevity and staying power of a piece. Better to write prolifically and have some content become stale than to sit idle for months for want of inspiration. I also suspect I will lean more towards many short posts rather than my more customary long and rambling essays. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, people start and stop blogs all the time. This was a longer break than I meant to do, but I was busy with other things in the last couple of years, and I have no regrets about how I spent my time. Now I am back, and hopefully we can have some fun with this.

Cheers!

–Geoff