September 29, 2013

  • The Very Important Game of the Man and the Chicken

    This picture will hopefully make more sense after your read some of what I’ve written below:

    mandc1

    When Simon was two years old, just a few months before his brother Evan was born, I was feeling very sad.

    It was a lovely sunny Saturday morning which would have been been great for doing family stuff — but I had to go do some work thing or other.  Consulting is like that.  Plus you get no dental plan.

    I really wanted to hang out with my son that day.  I knew it was a special day and that we weren’t going to get it back ever.  Simon was playing with his Fisher-Price farm and Noah’s art sets at the end of the bed — while I was getting in some reading before I had to hit the road.

    Simon had Noah in one hand and another figure in the other.

    mandc4

    He handed the figure to me.

    It was a big chicken.

    mandc9

    “MAN!” cried Simon.

    “CHICKEN!”  I replied.

    We both laughed because we realized that the Noah (the man) and the Chicken were the same size.  Either people were really small back then or that was one honking big chicken.

    mandc6

    Never mind these anotomical details.  It was time for the Game of Man and the Chicken to be invented and for play to begin.

    First Simon (the weilder of the Man)  would chase me (the weilder of the Chikcen) all across the bed.  Then, just before the Man would catch the Chicken, the balance of power would suddenly reverse and Chicken would chase Man all around the bedroom.  This cycle of flip-flop pursuit would continue for what seemed like three (rather fun-filled) hours during which Simon and I would say poingant things like:

    “I’m going to get you! ”

    Man! Man! Man!

    “Here comes the Chicken!”

    “He’s going to get you!”

    “Chicken Chicken Chicken!”

    With each cycle our cries got more musical until we were singing ad-lib songs while the toys chased each other back and forth.  Later Simon would play Man and the Chicken with Helen and she composed lyrics and an actual melody that she would sing to him.

    mandc8

    Man and the Chicken had “legs” as they say in the advertising industry.  It became a regular game in our home and came to include Evan (when he finally got around to getting born) and generated quite a few stories and adventures.

    mandc7

    The Game and its associated narratives became a part of family folkore — and if I happen to mention “Man and the Chicken” or even “Fisher-Price” to Simon today I will usually get an exasperateed sigh…but I also get a flash of recognition and a trace of a smile.

    I wonder of literature started this way?

    mandc2

     

September 23, 2013

  • Creative Studies

    antheads1

    antheads2a23

    antheads3b34

    antheadmural

    There was a time when I was creating illustrations as a way to try and inspire stories. I’m including some drawings I did when I was trying to jumpstart a story about digitally enhanced poverty. Never got the story done but I think the pictures are still pretty interesting.

July 28, 2013

  • Go Local/Go Global/Go Martian

    GoLocal/Go Global/Go Martian

     

    You’veprobably heard lots of “My First Experience of Ray Bradbury” testimonialssince he passed away last year but here’s mine anyway:

     Iam a thief. 

     

    OneChristmas morning my big brother found a paperback edition of The Martian Chronicles.  I’m not sure what John thought of the book (heis more a Barsoom man) but he didn’t object when I asked if I could borrowit.  He also hasn’t mentioned that it’sbeen over forty years now and I still haven’t returned his book.  And until he says something he’s not gettingit back.

     

    Reading The Martian Chronicles at age 11pretty much re-wired my brain and still has a lot to do with the kind of writerand thinker I am.

     

    Anyonewho has been following my postings on FB, Twitter and Linked-In knows that mystory “Five Stories About Alan” is a part of the new anthology Dandelions of Mars edited by Jean Goldstromand Ahmed Khan and published by Whortleberry Press. It’s a great read and alovely edition and if you haven’t done so already you can order a copy at:

     

    ____________________________

     

     

    Abouta month before the book was ready, Whortleberry released a video trailerfeaturing the cover art which you can find here:

     

    ____________________________

     

    WhenI saw that video I was in love and I knew that I wanted to do something to helppromote the book.  I also wanted to do somethinglocal — Ahmed and my fellow anthology contributor Kate Riedel are from Ontario– in fact Kate is only about 10 minutes from me on the 501 Streetcar.

     

    SoI decided I’d try to do a book launch. 

     

    Butbecause of the nature of the book it was going to be a somewhat experimentalevent.  Dandelions of Mars is POD (Print on Demand) publication.  This is to say that once you order the book,the publisher prints one up and ships it out to you.   This does mean that if you drop by Chaptersor Indigo you are not going to see rows and rows of Dandelions which also meansthere will be one less phenomena in the world to feed my ego.

     

    However,it does reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping costs and masses of unsoldbooks won’t be going into a landfill somewhere. I also liked the combination of parties involved in the project:

     

    Whortleberry(US) connected to Lulu (UK – who do the sales and logistics) to the nearest Espressostyle book machine (in my case it was in Mississauga) which means the shippingcost was the low and the delivery time very fast).  The whole operation felt like a workingexample of the creative “flattening” (i.e. geographic democratization)of the world — and that sort of thing has always been pretty exciting to me.

     


     

    Theconventional wisdom (I quickly learned) is that you don’t hold launch parties forPOD books.  With traditionalpublications, the launches tend to be held in bookstores.  The bookseller orders some copies of the bookin question, they do some PR, on the appointed day, the author(s) show up, readfrom the book to the people assembled; these people then buy some books andline up for the author(s) to autograph their books.  It’s a good arrangement for them, some booksget sold and the bookseller gets to send any books they don’t sell back to thepublisher. 

     

    Unfortunatelythat arrangement doesn’t hold true for POD books.  You have to buy the books outright andthere’s no place to send any unsold books. Plus the bookseller doesn’t make anything on the book sales.  I can’t blame them for their lack ofenthusiasm.

     

    So solution number one:  don’t hold the launch ata bookstore. We went to Lakeshore Arts

     

    ——————————————–

     

    Thestaff and volunteers at LA are incredibly supportive and dedicated people whoare in the process of transforming South Etobicoke and bringing wonderful andmeaningful cultural experiences to those of us who live here.  They also have a great gallery space that isjust around the corner from my house. Lakeshore Arts promoted the event to their members and also got us some coveragefrom the local press.

     

    Solution two:  invest in yourself.  Like a lot of peoplethese days I have less disposable income than I did five years ago but Idecided to purchase some books that we could sell at the launch.  Whortleberry and Lulu gave me a very good breakon the price and I also was able to secure the services of the rising webseriesjournalist Jess Morton who handled PR and press leases.  Jess also taped the event and is in theprocess of editing a short video which we will be releasing online verysoon.  I was able to get Jess because Ioffered her the use of my car to help her move apartments.  Barter is such a great tradition.

     

    Istarted to think of the book launch as a literary version of a micro-bankingenterprise.  It did require a modestinvestment of cash plus a not-so-modest investment of time and labour to make ithappen.  In those terms, the experimentalmost worked.  If I hadn’t made a badcall in securing some printed materials I would have made a small profit.

     

    Sowhat actually happened at Lakeshore Arts on July 20, 2013?

     

    Wehad a reasonable turn-out.  Not what youmight see for a launch of a Harry Potter book but not too shabby.  Two weeks earlier I went to a launch party ata bookstore for an up-and-coming SF writer and we had the same number of peopleat our do.

     

    Wesold and signed some books!  We even setup an online terminal for those who wanted to order their copies on-line. Again,Whortleberry and Lulu generously provided a discount for anyone who ordered Dandelions on that day.

     

    MaxArnoutt did a great job reading from Kate Riedel’s story “Welcome”which may be the best one in the book.  Maxis a well-known local poet, incredibly articulate and the spouse of Kate. 

     

    Iput on my Wonderful Ice Cream Suit as I always do for any public eventassociated with Ray Bradbury, and read from my story.  I was also thinking about giving ademonstration of hands-free electronic music but I seem to have misplaced my Theremin.  That’s always happening.

     

    Thesnacks were good (supplied by the supermarket deli across the street) and theconversation was even better.  No, youdon’t get a lot of people at most book launches but you do get the best people.  It was definitely a mind-expanding afternoonand as with most book launches I’ve attended, a good place for some seriousnetworking.

     

    Sowhat was learned?

     

    Neverhesitate to exploit family and friends. 

     

    Helen’sexpertise in event management at the Orpheus Choir saved the project at severalpoints and some of the best literary conversation came from my day-job friendswho graciously came and showed their support.

     

    Whatcould have gone better? 

     

    Marketingat the neighbourhood level is trickier than I expected.  We postered stores, libraries and used thosepublic message boards as much as possible. As I mentioned earlier Lakeshore Arts was invaluable with the localpress but getting on those community event calendars in papers and radiostations is not a particularly easy process and I need to research this further.

     

    Ido wish we had more locals drop in — if nothing else so they can find out whatcool stuff their neighbours are doing. Maybe we need to do readings from science fiction and fantasy written inother languages to appeal to some of the New Canadians living here.  That could be really fun!

     

    Ialso wish more of the Toronto science fiction crowd had been there.  Now, the weather did not work in ourfavour.  It was the first cool sunny dayafter five days of one of the worst muggiest heat waves in the history of theCity.  It has been proven that some SFwriters and fans actually go outside once in a while and July 20 was definitelya good day to do that.

     

    ButI can’t help wondering of their absence might be a comment on whether this wasan event for a “legitimate” publication.  SF professionals have been very concernedabout electronic publishing and copyright issues and how these impact on the traditionalmagazine and book markets.  Heck,Bradbury didn’t authorize an eBook edition of Fahrenheit 451 until a yearbefore his death.

     

    Dandelions,because it is a POD, might have been seen as something too different, too dangerous.  No matter how much it is an expression oflove for Bradbury’s vision and aesthetic, Dandelions is a creation of the 21stCentury, something that can only exist through the electronic media thatBradbury was so ambivalent about.

     

    There’sanother annoying possibility.  Perhapsbecause Dandelions was small press, far more a labour of love than a commercialventure, it was perceived as just not “pro” enough.  Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about how one of thereasons he was pleased not be associated with science fiction writers was thatwhenever they got together they insisted on checking on whether they had thecorrect “credentials”.  As acreative class, it is not one of our more enduring traits.

     

    Ihope I’m completely wrong in my wonderings. If science fiction writers can’tfigure out ways to adapt and prosper from technological innovation then wereally are in a mess.  And SF creatorsshould always be wary of being too professional, too legitimate, and toocorrect.  We originated in mimeographedfanzines and pulp pages containing enough acid to melt through the bulkhead ofBuck Roger’s rocket ship.  Our main valueis the perspective we bring from the fringes.

     

    The sort ofperspective that Ray Bradbury gives us.

    Wasit worth it? Absolutely.  It was a greatexperience and it was wonderful drawing people’s existing love for Ray Bradbury’swork to bring a new kind of cultural experience to the neighbor.  Selling those books was good too.

     

  • You’veprobably heard lots of “My First Experience of Ray Bradbury”testimonials since he passed away last year but here’s mine anyway:

     Iam a thief. 

     One Christmas morning my big brother found a paperback edition of The Martian Chronicles under the tree.  I’m not sure what John thought of the book(he is more a Barsoom man) but he didn’t object when I asked if I could borrowit.  He also hasn’t mentioned that it’sbeen over forty years now and I still haven’t returned his book.  And until he says something he’s not gettingit back.

     Reading The Martian Chronicles at age 11pretty much re-wired my brain and still has a lot to do with the kind of writerand thinker I am.

     

     Anyonewho has been following my postings on FB, Twitter and Linked-In knows that mystory “Five Stories About Alan” is a part of the new anthology Dandelions of Mars edited by Jean Goldstromand Ahmed Khan and published by Whortleberry Press. It’s a great read and alovely edition and if you haven’t done so already you can order a copy at:

     http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/jean-goldstrom/dandelions-of-mars/paperback/product-21075430.html


    Abouta month before the book was ready, Whortleberry released a video trailerfeaturing the cover art which you can find here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AQeFeUXcOA

    WhenI saw that video I was in love and I knew that I wanted to do something to helppromote the book.  I also wanted to dosomething local — Ahmed and my fellow anthology contributor Kate Riedel arefrom Ontario — in fact Kate is only about 10 minutes from me on the 501Streetcar.

     SoI decided I’d try to do a book launch. 

     Butbecause of the nature of the book it was going to be a somewhat experimentalevent.  Dandelions of Mars is POD (Print on Demand) publication.  This is to say that once you order the book,the publisher prints one up and ships it out to you.   This does mean that if you drop by Chaptersor Indigo you are not going to see rows and rows of Dandelions which also meansthere will be one less phenomena in the world to feed my ego.

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q946sfGLxm4

    However,it does reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping costs and masses of unsoldbooks won’t be going into a landfill somewhere. I also liked the combination of parties involved in the project:

     Whortleberry(US) connected to Lulu (UK – who do the sales and logistics) to the nearestEspresso style book machine (in my case it was in Mississauga) which means theshipping cost was the low and the delivery time very fast).  The whole operation felt like a workingexample of the creative “flattening” (i.e. geographicdemocratization) of the world — and that sort of thing has always been prettyexciting to me.

     

    Theconventional wisdom (I quickly learned) is that you don’t hold launch partiesfor POD books.  With traditionalpublications, the launches tend to be held in bookstores.  The bookseller orders some copies of the bookin question, they do some PR, on the appointed day, the author(s) show up, readfrom the book to the people assembled; these people then buy some books andline up for the author(s) to autograph their books.  It’s a good arrangement for them, some booksget sold and the bookseller gets to send any books they don’t sell back to thepublisher. 

     Unfortunatelythat arrangement doesn’t hold true for POD books.  You have to buy the books outright andthere’s no place to send any unsold books. Plus the bookseller doesn’t make anything on the book sales.  I can’t blame them for their lack ofenthusiasm.

     So solution number one:  don’t hold the launch ata bookstore. We went to Lakeshore Arts.

    http://www.lakeshorearts.ca/

     Thestaff and volunteers at LA are incredibly supportive and dedicated people whoare in the process of transforming South Etobicoke and bringing wonderful andmeaningful cultural experiences to those of us who live here.  They also have a great gallery space that isjust around the corner from my house. Lakeshore Arts promoted the event to their members and also got us somecoverage from the local press.

      

    Solution two:  invest in yourself.  Like a lot of peoplethese days I have less disposable income than I did five years ago but Idecided to purchase some books that we could sell at the launch. 


    Whortleberry and Lulu gave me a very goodbreak on the price and I also was able to secure the services of the risingwebseries journalist Jess Morton who handled PR and press leases.  Jess also taped the event and is in theprocess of editing a short video which we will be releasing online verysoon.  I was able to get Jess because Ioffered her the use of my car to help her move apartments.  Barter is such a great tradition.

     

    Istarted to think of the book launch as a literary version of a micro-bankingenterprise.  It did require a modestinvestment of cash plus a not-so-modest investment of time and labour to make ithappen.  In those terms, the experimentalmost worked.  If I hadn’t made a badcall in securing some printed materials I would have made a small profit.

     Sowhat actually happened at Lakeshore Arts on July 20, 2013?

     

    Wehad a reasonable turn-out.  Not what youmight see for a launch of a Harry Potter book but not too shabby.  Two weeks earlier I went to a launch party ata bookstore for an up-and-coming SF writer and we had the same number of peopleat our do.

     

    Wesold and signed some books!  We even set upan online terminal for those who wanted to order their copies on-line. Again,Whortleberry and Lulu generously provided a discount for anyone who ordered Dandelions on that day.

      

    MaxArnoutt did a great job reading from Kate Riedel’s story “Welcome”which may be the best one in the book. Max is a well-known local poet, incredibly articulate and the spouse ofKate. 


     Iput on my Wonderful Ice Cream Suit as I always do for any public eventassociated with Ray Bradbury, and read from my story.  I was also thinking about giving ademonstration of hands-free electronic music but I seem to have misplaced my Theremin.  That’s always happening.

        

    Thesnacks were good (supplied by the supermarket deli across the street) and theconversation was even better.  No, youdon’t get a lot of people at most book launches but you do get the best people.  It was definitely a mind-expanding afternoonand as with most book launches I’ve attended, a good place for some seriousnetworking.

     Sowhat was learned?

     

    Neverhesitate to exploit family and friends. 

    Helen’sexpertise in event management at the Orpheus Choir saved the project at severalpoints and some of the best literary conversation came from my day-job friendswho graciously came and showed their support.


     Whatcould have gone better? 

     

    Marketingat the neighbourhood level is trickier than I expected.  We postered stores, libraries and used thosepublic message boards as much as possible. As I mentioned earlier Lakeshore Arts was invaluable with the localpress but getting on those community event calendars in papers and radiostations is not a particularly easy process and I need to research this further.

     

    Ido wish we had more locals drop in — if nothing else so they can find out whatcool stuff their neighbours are doing. Maybe we need to do readings from science fiction and fantasy written inother languages to appeal to some of the New Canadians living here.  That could be really fun!

     Ialso wish more of the Toronto science fiction crowd had been there.  Now, the weather did not work in ourfavour.  It was the first cool sunny dayafter five days of one of the worst muggiest heat waves in the history of theCity.  It has been proven that some SFwriters and fans actually go outside once in a while and July 20 was definitelya good day to do that.

     ButI can’t help wondering of their absence might be a comment on whether this wasan event for a “legitimate” publication.  SF professionals have been very concernedabout electronic publishing and copyright issues and how these impact on the traditionalmagazine and book markets.  Heck,Bradbury didn’t authorize an eBook edition of Fahrenheit 451 until a yearbefore his death.

     Dandelions,because it is a POD, might have been seen as something too different, too dangerous.  No matter how much it is an expression oflove for Bradbury’s vision and aesthetic, Dandelions is a creation of the 21stCentury, something that can only exist through the electronic media thatBradbury was so ambivalent about.

     There’sanother annoying possibility.  Perhapsbecause Dandelions was small press, far more a labour of love than a commercialventure, it was perceived as just not “pro” enough.  Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about how one of thereasons he was pleased not be associated with science fiction writers was thatwhenever they got together they insisted on checking on whether they had thecorrect “credentials”.  As acreative class, it is not one of our more enduring traits.

     Ihope I’m completely wrong in my wonderings. If science fiction writers can’tfigure out ways to adapt and prosper from technological innovation then wereally are in a mess.  And SF creatorsshould always be wary of being too professional, too legitimate, and toocorrect.  We originated in mimeographedfanzines and pulp pages containing enough acid to melt through the bulkhead ofBuck Roger’s rocket ship.  Our main valueis the perspective we bring from the fringes.

     The sort ofperspective that Ray Bradbury gives us.

    Wasit worth it? Absolutely.  It was a greatexperience and it was wonderful drawing people’s existing love for RayBradbury’s work to bring a new kind of cultural experience to the neighbor.  Selling those books was good too.

     


April 28, 2013

March 24, 2013

  • The Roughlands

    The “Roughlands” were what we called that part of my Grandfather’s farm located down the hill and along the creek.  It was land that couldn’t be farmed.  Of course the Roughlands was best part of the place — where we would hike, camp, have cook-outs and even stage treasure hunts.
     
    I don’t remember exactly why I decided an outing to the farm was a good idea that day in 2006. Dad had recently been evac’d from a pretty terrible situation in Argentina and was staying with my sister in Lethbridge while the doctors told us more and more about the state of his health.  Eventually the doctors decided that Dad was going to recover from most of the damage he had sustained from years of abuse and neglect. 

    Except for the dementia.
     

    They could slow the disease down but his condition was never going to get any better.  Ever.  A cruel fate for a scientist — someone who used his mind to make his living and give him a sense of worth.

    Maybe I thought a trip to the family farm — where he grew up and where we kids vacationed every year –would take Dad to a place where he could reconnect to his past and maybe get some comfort from the memories that he still had.

    Maybe I wanted to try and reconnect with Dad, who had transformed from a gruff eccentric who I thought I knew quite well into a sometimes very strange person indeed.



    So one F
    ebruary morning we piled into the car and drove the 30 miles or so from Lethbridge to Magrath, Alberta (population 2,081).

    We stopped at the local Chinese place for lunch before we went to the farm.  This was the most exotic food in town and I felt like we had crossed through some time portal that took us back to the 1950s.

     

    Our server was very nice and polite in spite of Dad and my efforts at being Charming Spencer Men (which is never a pretty thing).  She seemed pleased when I told her that I had worked on some museums in her home town of Hong Kong.



    One giant plate of Pineapple Chicken later and then on to the farm…


    My Dad’s brother took control of the farm after Grandfather died and over the years he tore down the old house and cottage and just about any structure that suggested this might have been a place where a family had once lived.  I hated that but to be fair most of these changes were very sensible steps toward much needed modernization  — it was an old fashioned farm and I suspect that Grandfather made more money writing the local history column for the Lethbridge Herald than he ever did growing sugar beats. 
     

    Eventually Uncle Geoff decided to lease the farm to his neighbours and they used it as pasture land for their cattle.  Economically rational but not the stuff that memories are made of.


    What was strange was that even though most of the farm that we had know had been flattenedthere were still echoes of the old place around.  The landscape was completely transformed…but not really. 

    The main road that lead to Grandfather’s place, a road that I saw several times a year for over 25 years, was gone but it was still sort of there.  It was just that there were giant streamlined windmills in the distance beyond.  (And probably, late at night Moorlocks came out from inside the windmills and ate the children of local farmers…)

    The little forested area where we celebrated Dominion Day with hot dogs and burgers and fireworks was now a parking lot for equipment.  But you still had a sense that this was a place where children had played for generations and done clever things like pouring Kool-Aid onto beehives. (It’s a long story.  Ask my brother and my cousin Kevin.)
     
    The Roughland, the place that got to go wild and be filled with fish and frogs and bugs and thousands of critters — that was all grassland now.  And full of somebody else’s cows.


    Later I wondered if the stripped down and totally functional nature of the farm — as well as the disappearance of our Roughlands was analogous to the condition of my Dad’s mind.  There was enough working to get through the day but it was getting increasingly hollowed out and rapidly loosing all meaning and memory.


    Dad once told me that it was a dream of his to retire to the family farm with his second wife Dorothy. 

    They were both biologists and Dad thought the two of them would be able to spend their days collecting specimens and doing research projects on the wildlife and habitats that populated the Roughlands. 

    It didn’t work out that way. 

    Dorothy went before Dad and now they, and the Roughlands, are gone.

November 11, 2012

  • Seemingly Ordinary Events that Give You Just a Little Bit of Hope

    Today would have been Kurt Vonnegut’s 90th birthday.  I miss him a lot.  He was funny, incredibly imaginative and relentlessly honest.  We can always use some of that stuff.

     

    Yesterday as I limped out of  the gym I noticed that the young lady at the desk was reading a library paperback edition of Player Piano.

    “You enjoying the book?”

    “Oh yeah!” 

    Genuine enthusiasm here.  This young person had the nerve to challenge my bitter nature.

    “Have you read Cat’s Cradle?  That’s my favourite.”

    “That’s what I’m going to read next.  My friend said I should check out his work.”

    “You have a very good friend there.”

    “Then I’m going to read Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions.”

    Then I suggest she check out the DVD of the movie of Slaughterhouse Five after she’s read the book.  Then I go home and feel pretty good about the state of our very small corner of the world.

October 26, 2012

August 9, 2012

  • Crisis, Change and Continuity

    Sounds like the title from your second-year sociology class, doesn’t it?  Well, that’s the way I talk sometimes, I can’t help it.

    This is a picture of me taken in the spring of 1995.  I was in Seoul, Korea overseeing the installation of a children’s museum for the Samsung Corporation.  I had just heard that one of our  suppliers had suffered a panic attack, locked himself in his hotel room and wasn’t going to come out.  I am about to burst into a fit laughter that continued for over five minutes.  It wasn’t that I thought it was funny or that I was being cruel or hysterical, it was just that I was pretty much at the end of my tether that day. (okay, so maybe it was a little hysterical).

    1995.  Best of times, worst of times.  I had three of my exhibition projects going –  some of my best work:  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Exhibition at the National Library of Canada, a major temporary show on Muhammad Ali in Kentucky, and the Samsung Children’s Museum.  Trouble was that all three shows ended up opening with three weeks of each other.  But it all turned out okay.  I liked the results, so did the press and public — all was well except that I never was quite the same person afterwards… I was a lot twitchier…(that was the “crisis” part of the story).*

    It’s interesting to look at that picture and notice the ways it does not look like me in 2012. The mass of no-grey knarly hair, the baby face (glad to see that go), that sport coat that I bought there for about $20 CDN and really wish I still had.  (that was the change part).

    Please note the odd little black device sitting in front of me.  Someone said it looked like a mini-synthesizer.  It is not.  It is a Tandy WP-2 Portable Word Processor and even in 1995 it was considered ancient.  I bought it in 1989 to help me write exhibit text for another children’s museum, this one in Lexington, Kentucky.  I loved it then and I love it now.  Thanks to something called NADS-Box technology (NADS stands for New Age Digital Storage), I can still generate files that I can transfer to contemporary computers and manipulate them.  I am looking at that machine right now. It is sitting on my desk and I will likely use if to write some fiction on tonight.  (that was the continuity part).

    Just a bit of personal time-travel.

    *I am still not sure if having to manage the installation of three major exhibition represented spectacularly bad planning or was actually part of a plot to kill me through over-work.

July 2, 2012

  • The Journey of a Story

           

    Danny Waugh, director of the Problem Project show reel.

    Not the story of a journey.  Go read The Odyssey if that’s what you’re looking for.  (I’m doing that right now, it’s great!)


    SR Camera mico-dolly — used for an establishing shot in PP show reel.

    Last Saturday the talented people at The Film Coop (http://filmcoop.to/members) were shooting show reels and they were using something  of mine.– a scene based on my story Problem Project.  It was really fascinating watching them at work — and  wonderful and strange seeing my characters come to life.

      Jordon Kanner and Pip Dwyer in rehearsal as Hal and Megan.

    It also made me think about how that particular story was born .  Way back in 1981, I had become quite nervous that the world could be coming to an end.  Partly because there was a serious escalation in the nuclear arms race and partly because of various intellectual, economic and emotional factors, it also felt like my personal world was coming to an end.  I think that’s why when I heard The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on CBC, the part when the Vogons blow up the Earth to make room for a hyper-space by-pass — it made a greater impression than Douglas Adams may have intended.

    File:Don't Panic towel.jpg

    Dial ahead to 1984-85 — I’m getting to work with the really cool PCs and word processors that we had in Exhibit Design Services at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Crude by today’s standards but leading edge tech for the time.  It was there when I learned about the concept of programmes “crashing” and needing to “re-boot” to get back on track. 


    Film Coop Co-Founder and Producer Emily Andrews checking sound levels.

    For some reason I combined those concepts with my end of the world obsession and came up with a story idea:  The world keeps ending but like a system crash someone,(or something) keeps starting up the planet again — just at the point where it was last destroyed.

    So I borrowed one of EDS’ extremely futuristic Tandy Model 100 laptops for the next few weekends and hammered away on a story.

    Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100.jpg

     I even gave it a title: “Problem Project”.   It was at that point that I learned something very valuable when you are writing science fiction:  Having an interesting idea is not enough to create an interesting story.  I just couldn’t get the thing to work.

    Over the next ten years I would pull out the dot-matrix print-out of that manuscript and poke away at it, hoping to get somewhere with it .

    Nope. 

    Now let’s go to 1998, I’m in Singapore (as I often was back then) and the city is completely enveloped in a massive cloud of smog — caused by Indonesian farmers burning off forest land to make room for cash crops. 

      

    Planes are crashing, ships are colliding, you can’t see more than four feet in front of you and we’re all being warned to stay in doors so that the toxic atmosphere doesn’t kill us.  Sadly, it did kill some people

    This crisis went on for more than 10 days and I wasn’t sure if the plane that was supposed to take me home was going to be able to take off.  


    Wiring Jordon up for sound.

    So thanks to those ambitious Indonesian farmers,  my end-of-the-world thinking had now become an immersive experience.  For some reason I had the original manuscript with me and while sat there in my room, trying not to inhale too deeply, I started work on the story again. 

    Wiring Pip up for sound.

    This time the results seemed much more satisfactory; it just hung together better.  This might have been the result of having spent the last 11 years in the Cecil Street Writers Group, slowly getting a sense of how stories can work and learning that you need things like characters and these character-thingies should represent people that you and your readers care about.  One of the characters in the new version of Problem Project  was Megan.   She was sort of a composite of some of the women in my life that I admired.


     
    Well, as you probably noticed, the world did not end.  Furthermore, the smog cleared, I got to fly home and I had a story that I was relatively pleased with.  (In reverse order of importance)

    Danny conferring  with Director of Photography Mickey Dutta.

    Other people seemed to like the story too — I sold it to two anthologies and one magazine between 1999 to 2002.  Unfortunately all of these publications folded before they could print the thing — and more importantly — pay the author!  I began to wonder if Problem Project was the bringer of disaster, every time some editor read it, the organization she was working for would immediately go bankrupt.

    That didn’t stop me and eventually I did place it with Interzone magazine in the UK. 

    The editor didn’t like the title but ventually decided that we couldn’t come up with anything more suitable.  Either that or he just had better things to do.  The story came out, and got positive but maybe not rave reviews.  Here’s what Mammoth Books, Best SF had to say:

    Hugh A.D. Spencer. Problem Project.

    Spencer has fun with quantum realities, with technical memos from those working on scientific experiments which have gone wrong interspersed with the consequently quantum end of the world nightmares one unfortuante individual is having. Spencer’s ‘The Z-Burger Simulations’ in On-Spec 44 also entertained.

    So job done, move on to the next project, right? 

    Yes…but…

    I am a thrifty writer and like to translate my work from one medium to the other whenever possible.  I wrote an audio version of Problem Project a year later which Shoestring Radio Theatre in San Francisco produced in 2006.  Here’s a link to it if you have 26 minutes available to listen:

    http://chrono1957.xanga.com/audio/8a7841777669/

    I like what Shoestring did with my script a lot.  The show has a BoHo Twilight Zone feel to it.

    So now Project Project goes to the glowing screen.  At least one scene from it.  Who knows maybe I can use the show reel to pitch a film project to do the whole stor?. It’s been interesting to consider the time and distance its taken to create just one story.  It’s also exciting to wonder if it may have even further to go.