While sorting through old photographs, I came upon this pair from Vivian and Nora’s toddler days. I thought I’d share these with you.

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This past week was one of two "free weeks" where the kids and I didn't have summer recreation camps, art camps, science camps, or trips to California. It was meant to be lazy, but we still got a lot of things done.

With the help of Rosemarie and Michael, we rearranged and redecorated the girls' rooms. Vivian got a new loft bed from Ikea, and I described the experience over here in my column for the Kitchener Post. I should also add that the purchase of the loft bed led pretty quickly to the purchase of a low-profile ceiling light to replace the old ceiling fan. Though the ceiling fan was not being used, it was still a disaster waiting to happen. So, I braved my fears of working with electricity (don't worry, I found the switch in the fuse box that turned off the power to Vivian's room) while standing on the ladder of the loft bed. It was hard work, but there's no sign of fire, and the new light looks good, even if I do say so myself.

Nora has new lights of her own, but they're much easier wall-mounted lights that plug in. Her bedroom looks good too.

On Friday, Pat and Eric took us to Toronto to cruise the city's harbour in a tall ship Kajama. Though it was a bit of a slog getting into the city, the kids quite enjoyed the ninety-minute ride, and seeing the views of the city from Lake Ontario. It was also a very pleasant day -- sunny and not too hot, with plenty of cool breezes from the lake.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Moe Pancer's Original Delicatessen, recently re-opened under its original owners and menu. As we'd long lamented the death of some of Toronto's classic delis, Pancers had been filling a considerable gap. When it vanished, people went into mourning. After eating there for the first time since its re-opening, I can say that the food is as good as ever. My father and I had beef-tongue sandwiches, my mother had a latke, and the kids grilled cheese sandwiches. We managed to make a good dent in them, in spite of snaking somewhat unwisely during the afternoon.

Finally, on Saturday, the kids and I went over to our friends Ishta and Walker's place and had a sleep-over with their two kids. The kids had a great time, as did the adults (because the kids mostly left the adults alone). I talked writing with Ishta, and she, Walker and I played Cards Against Humanity. That's a game I'll definitely have to invest in, though I'll need to make sure to have more people around to play it.

We're home, now, and pretty tired out, eating leftovers and generally feeling good about the world. Erin is on her way home, and is now in Hong Kong, recuperating from her long trip to the wilds of western Mongolia. Ten days until she comes home.

Pictures of our cruise can be found here.

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Sun, Aug
23
2015

Drayton Festivities

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I see that despite my attempts to post to this blog more often, I’ve fallen back and made a five day gap in my posts. Oh, well. But I have been working. On Friday, I completed outlines on two non-fiction books for kids. The outline for The Sun Runners is also going well.

In the meantime, on Saturday, Michael and Rosemarie, the kids and I had the pleasure of going to see The Music Man at the Drayton Festival Theatre. It was my first time to Drayton and seeing its theatre. What an interesting little town. It’s a beautiful rural hamlet with an old opera house (built in 1902) that has been impressively refurbished to host a theatre group that consistently punches well above its weight. It’s like Stratford in miniature.

And our outing was as impressive as we could have hoped. The Drayton Festival Theatre put on a lovely production of the Music Man that was fun, well choreographed, and highly detailed. I was watching one scene where the whole cast was singing about the arrival of the Wells Fargo truck. The leading lady was off to the side. Her character had just been given an important revelation. And though she was off to the side of the stage, the focus not on her at all, I happen to look at her and see her expression from enjoying the proceedings, to disappointment (the delivery helps the con man’s case), to decidedly mixed, as her feelings for the con man are themselves in flux, thanks to the earlier revelation. That was impressive acting, and I suspect that a lot of audience wasn’t paying attention to it. It still happened, though. Similarly, there were little stories told in the background of scenes as the main story took place, all producing a rich, multi-layered production that gave you many levels of enjoyment.

The kids loved the performance, especially the music and the choreography. We came home late, the girls sleepy, but I think we’ll be doing that again.

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The picture above is entitled Sunrise Over Mercury and is by Mr. Angry Dog. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

Enclosed, please find what I called “a potentially ill-advised prologue to The Sun Runners”:

They shouldn’t have been there.

That’s what many people said from the start, but the colonists of Mercury seemed to thrive on proving everybody wrong.

It was the beginning of the twenty-second century, as Earth’s technology made a great leap forward and allowed people to break out and colonize the surrounding planets. After the Lunar Launchpad, we had the Martian Biospheres, and the Giant Airships of Venus. There were Asteroid Scows of the Imperial Mining Companies. There were plans to go to Jupiter’s moons.

And through it all, a small group of people turned their eyes to Mercury. It was a reckless adventure. The conditions were too harsh. Even with the best Earth technology, the plan was too expensive. What could Mercury produce to sell back to Earth?

But they did it. They came up with an ingenious way to pull their cities away from direct sunlight. They figured out how to grow what Earth needed most. For the half-century that followed, they were as rich as the Forty-niners, or the first mineral prospectors of Antarctica.

And then the environmental collapse that that Earth’s technology had been desperately running ahead of, finally caught up and destroyed the economy. Shuttles stopped leaving the Earth’s surface. The Asteroid Scows lay derelict on Mars. The Jupiter colonies starved. In the century and a half that it took Earth to pull itself back together again, contact was lost with Mercury.

They shouldn’t have been there.

But when Earth recovered enough to start sending out more shuttles, and start rebuilding its relationships with Mars and Venus, someone opened the radio link between the Earth and Mercury, and there they were, waiting for us.

And they’d done some fascinating things in order to survive.

I called it a “potentially ill-advised prologue” because most prologues generally are. They exist outside of the story you’re trying to tell, to provide readers with a bit of background material or atmospheric set-up. And while that might be nice and all, and while plenty of prologues justify their existence, the fact remains that if this stuff is so important, why can’t these details come out in the middle of the story, once the readers are drawn into the main plot by the characters and their actions, experiencing things far more up-close and personal than any impersonal prologue can offer. And that’s what my beta-readers told me. Which is why I pulled it soon after.

So, why write it in the first place? Well, it was still a valuable piece of writing for me, because it helped me settle in my head the universe my story was taking place in. And while I won’t use the prologue (it might come up later in the book, as a speech by a character at a welcoming ceremony, or something), it helped me discover more about the story.

Such is the peril of writing without an outline. When you just start into a story as I do, discovering things as you go, it makes for a jagged journey, full of trips up blind alleys and backtracks until you find the path through the woods.

And, speaking of outlines, I’ve just tossed most of my material (almost 20,000 words), and I’ve started to outline.

Lots of writers tell you that you have to outline your story, and I’ve generally pooh-poohed this, preferring to embark on my own journey of discovery. For me, starting a story by writing an outline would be just as heart-wrending as trying to write a first draft, and I wouldn’t have the benefit of encountering bits of dialogue or turns of phrase that flash before me, revealing what I hadn’t yet learned about a particular character or setting.

That said, there’s no doubt that an outline is a powerful tool, allowing you to structure your plot, avoiding washed-out bridges, identifying sharp turns in the road, and getting a sense of the best direction to go.

And, so far, it’s going well. I fear my original draft ran up a blind alley in chapter three. Now, with reader suggestions, my outline is now well into chapter nine, and I think the revised plot seems solid.

But the thing is, I could not have written this outline were it not for the 20,000 words I amassed just stumbling around through the forest with a blindfold on, hands outstretched, whacking myself on trees.

There’s a lot to be said about the joy of discovering your way without a map. And there’s equally a lot to say about going back to home base, drawing your journey so far on a map, and setting out once again.

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At least, according to Microsoft Word 2016 Preview Edition.

This is the first few dozen pages or so of my manuscript for Icarus Down, after we’d been through initial editorial comments and revisions earlier this year. The blue represents text I’ve changed or added. I don’t know why Word selected blue as the colour of revision, or why it sometimes changes that colour when I shut down Word and open it again. Red would have made more sense, I thought, but oh, well.

I’m getting used to working with Microsoft Word track changes, and zooming out to 10% really gives you a sense of the work you do.

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