Sunday, August 03, 2008

Back? From Erstwhile?

Whew. It's been a busy time. In addition to all the usual drains on my time and energy that I inevitably go on about in this space (blah blah day job blah blah family blah), most of you probably know the latest thing that's been tugging at the sleeve of my life.

My new webcomic, Cold Iron Badge, launched last week on Modern Tales. You can read it here!

I think the launch went well, and the response has been really positive so far. Thanks to everyone who has already shared your thoughts!

Cold Iron Badge is around three-quarters written, and with our planned weekly update schedule -- with a new short scene appearing every Monday, there's plenty of time for me to finish it without too much deadline pressure.

By the way, that means that the next installment will be up tomorrow, so please do check it out!

But there was also a lot of other prep work. Talking with Patrick about all sorts of details related to the launch, logos and promotional images and all kinds of other stuff. Doing an interview with Patrick and Modern Tales editor Shaenon Garrity.

So, I've got a new webcomic up and running. It's not hypothetical any more. People I don't know can read it whenever they want. And Greg and I have been talking about reviving the Xeno's Arrow website and doing more to promote that project -- with the long-term goal of creating new material. And a couple of months back, as I mentioned, I was published in Weird Tales.

So, I've been busy. But also...

I think I might be back.

From erstwhile.

Which not only means that I'm noticeably busier, but also leaves me with the question of what this blog is for, now.

That's something I need to think about. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Testing, Testing, One Two Three...

This isn't really an update; I'm just checking to see whether it works when I update via Man, do I ever love Ping. I can update my blog, Twitter, and my Facebook account from one site.I'm off to see if this actually works. If so... that's pretty sweet.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Here Comes The Sundry

It's been a fairly hectic couple of weeks. Lots going on at work, and at home, and on the creative front as well.

All of it vital, productive, interesting background and developmental stuff that makes for lousy anecdotes.

Patrick and I are gearing up for the launch of Cold Iron Badge on Modern Tales. Greg and I are talking about some new things to do with Xeno's Arrow. I have a writers group meeting coming up this week.

Good stuff. It's keeping me busy. I'm thinking all the time. But it's just not a particularly interesting part of the process to anyone who isn't actually in it.

Sorry. There'll be plenty happening over the next couple of weeks. Around mid-July and August, things are really going to start popping -- and there'll be announcements before that. But right now, it's all in such early stages that there's nothing to tell.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nothing Sundry About It!

Cold Iron Badge! Modern Tales! July 2008!

I was due for a little good news, I think -- and, boy, did I get some! Cold Iron Badge will launch on Modern Tales this July, and I couldn't be happier.

What a trifecta: A prestigious venue for my project. The chance to bring new material to a new audience. The opportunity to work with Patrick... It's an amazing way for everything to come together for Cold Iron Badge.

Thanks to Modern Tales's editor, the illustrious Shaenon Garrity, for her support. To Patrick for his hard work and mad skillz. And to everyone whose kind words about the preview pages encouraged me to keep moving forward.

Patrick and I are still working on the details of the exact launch date. I'll definitely keep you all posted.

Feeding the Body, Feeding the Mind

I had dinner Saturday night with some of the old comics gang -- Greg, Tara Tallan and Rob "Tragic Lad" Clark. Getting the band back together is always a good time, but this occasion was particularly inspiring. I've been wanting a chance to pick Rob and Tara's brains about webcomics, promotion, and how best to use all the new web-based tools that have been developed over the past few years to facilitate both.

My brain is buzzing. So many ideas to explore, so many things to learn. So many opportunities! It's a little daunting and really exciting.

Plus, we had ice cream! Win!

I've Always Been A Twit, So This Was The Next Logical Step

I've joined Twitter, the social networking site that Rob Clark describes as a "micro-blogging platform". If you tweet on Twitter, or you want to, you can follow me here!

How Can I Think With A Brain This Full?!

Forgive me if I seem a little breathless. Over the space of a week I went from having a lot going on, but nothing much happening, to having a huge pile of happening on top of everything that's going on.

I'm literally tingling with excitement. Actually, that might just be the caffeine.

Regardless, there's going to be lots more for me to tell and to share over the next few weeks. Keep watching this space!

Monday, June 02, 2008

How Can I Be So Boring When So Much Is Happening?

Just a quick update -- it doesn't really merit the venerable and honourable title of "Sundry", you see.

I have been very busy. Writer's Group was good! Progress on Cold Iron Badge continues! I baked a loaf of bread!

Yeah, the excitement never stops with yours truly, I tell ya.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sundry, Bloody Sundry

It's been a hectic three weeks. Lots going on at work, always stuff to do at home.

I've been working away on Cold Iron Badge -- Act 3 is still a bit of a bear, but that's more because it's turning out to be a longer script than I thought, not because of any insoluble issues in the narrative.

I mean, I knew that plot points that could be expressed in a single sentence of the outline ("Our heroes fight a giant clockwork banana. In space!") were going to take up rather more pages of script. But the ratio -- the number of script pages it takes to express a plot point -- has been higher for Cold Iron Badge than in my other comics work.

It progresses. Slowly. But it progresses. A related project, which is not so much on the creative side -- and which I'm not going to go into details about yet -- has been moving more quickly.

I Know Where My Towel Is

Today is Towel Day, when we honour the memory of Douglas Adams. It's a good day to know where your towel is, try a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster and, if you're especially ambitious, to try to throw yourself at the ground, and miss.

Rory Root and Robert Asprin

And as of this week, two more names that can only be honoured in memory from now on.

On Monday came the untimely death of Rory Root. Rory was not well-known outside of comics publishing and retailing, but within those realms he cast a very long shadow. His store, Comic Relief, was literally one of the best in the world, a model and inspiration for the industry. He was a tireless voice advocating for comics and graphics novels, and a supporter of Xeno's Arrow. I only had the pleasure of meeting him in person a couple of times, but I liked him very much and respected him tremendously.

He was a boundlessly energetic and positive person who did an unbelievable amount of good for the medium and business of comics. He will be greatly missed.

Then, on Thursday, Robert Asprin died. A writer of science-fiction and fantasy, his work was among my favourites when I was a teenager -- especially the Myth Adventures series of comedic fantasy novels. And although his writing and my own tastes eventually went in different directions, I still remember and cherish the delight I felt at enjoying his work for the first time. His style -- at least in the books of his I most enjoyed -- was breezy and sunny, full of wit and comedic asides. I suspect that it influenced my early development as a writer rather strongly.
He, too, will be missed.

I Didn't Really Want to End on a Down Note...

Let's see... my Writers Group meets this week. That'll be fun.

Oh, and Greg and I were finally shamed into reviving the long-moribund Xeno's Arrow Forum. Drop by to read all about it and chastise us for our lack of internet-savvy!

I may have some actual news over the next week or so -- it depends on the Cold Iron Badge-related matter I mentioned. I'll keep you all posted!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sunday Sundries Raids Again!

Gigantis: The Sunday Sundries!
The Volcano Sundries!
Sunday Sundries's Counter Attack!
Stephen: The Fire Monster!

(This barely relates to the actual subject matter of my post, by the way; I just like old-school Toho Godzilla movies. And most of them have many, many titles.)

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day -- the comic book industry's big annual public outreach event. And a day devoted to getting long-time and first-time readers alike into comic book stores to discover the amazing depth and breadth of the medium of comics seemed like a fine occasion to get the old gang back together.

FCBD itself was fine, although I actually got to the Beguiling more or less at the end of the day. I did get some free comics -- titles I had never read before -- but I was more into our dinner plans for afterwards.

Getting my old comics posse back together -- in whatever permutation our busy lives allow -- is always fun. And it's always inspiring. Someone always has new art to show around, there are always new stories, new ideas, and new plans.

Saturday was no exception -- it fuelled the fire in my belly.

And the truth is, with work and family and all the day-to-day concerns that wear us all down, I need every little spark of passion I can get. It's hard to stay focused and excited about creative work when I can only eke out a few minutes at a time to actually do it, on the bus or on my lunch or late at night.

I'm feeling that excitement now. For Cold Iron Badge. For Xeno's Arrow.

Cool plans are being discussed. Awesome comics are being made. People who have been away from the game are getting back to it. And I want to be part of it all.

Thanks to Greg, Jeff, Chris, Tara, David and Adrian (even though we only saw you for about five minutes, Adrian). You inspire me. Let's do it again soon.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Or, uh, the BI-weekly Update...?

This Year, April Really Is The Cruelest Month

Yeah, I'm a little out of my groove this month. I've been really tired for some reason, and having a hard time focusing on anything that isn't work/kids/sleep.

That, more than anything, is the reason for my not posting a Sundries last weekend. It's like the old Bloom County strip about the media trying to cope with a day when literally nothing happens. ("Nothing: Is it the new something?") It's possible. But it's embarrassing.

Slow Iron Badge

Chapter 3 of Cold Iron Badge progresses, but v...e...r...y... s...l...o...w...l...y. That's with a capital "...", if you're curious.

I've been writing on my lunch hour, even on the subway (I normally find public transit way too crowded and stressful to write, but you gotta use the time you've got, right?) So it is happening, albeit at a pace that frustrates me.

Part of the problem with this incremental approach is that the characters are still pretty new to me, so it can sometimes take a while for me to find their voices. And then I have to stop and go back to work.

I'd love to have a day, even an afternoon, to go heads-down and finish the chapter -- maybe May will be more conducive?

The Writers Group and the Screenplay

My Writers Group met last week, and another piece of my screenplay was up for discussion.

Hmm. Have I talked about the screenplay recently? I back-burnered the postmodern-y, genre-bending romantic comedy I originally brought to the group, and instead I've been offering pieces from the thriller I started, and blogged about, a couple of years ago.

It's about time for me to incorporate some of the great feedback I've been getting and write a new draft. One which, uh, actually finishes the script, which kind of ran out of gas at the Act 2/Act 3 transition and has been languishing ever since.

It's called Dark Green, by the way.

A Colder, Rainier, Better Week?

The weather in Toronto is supposed to get back to seasonal norms starting tomorrow -- rainy, and in the mid-single-digit Celsius range -- from the June-like temperatures we've been enjoying.

For all that, I think it might be a better week for me. I took a real kick at my sleep deficit today, and I'm feeling excited about both Cold Iron Badge and Dark Green. I'll keep you posted, of course.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Should Just Call it the 'Weekly Update' or Something...

Welcome to another lazy Sunday -- so lazy, it lasted through most of Monday!

Script Happens
Posting the latest Cold Iron Badge preview has been another kick in the motivator, and I've been moving forward with the script for Chapter 3. I'm at the stage where I need to get the stuff I've been writing in my notebook on my lunch break out of my notebook and into the computer, and carving out the time to do that has been another challenge.

You Can Get Pigtails & Potbellies Online?
My old friend Mike White returns to comics after several years away from the game with his new web strip, Pigtails & Potbellies. It's about a pig, a little girl who doesn't talk much, and a guy who makes Steve Dallas look like Steven Hawking.

Seeing new comics from Mike is just pure, unremitting joy -- every panel is so full of energy and fun! I can't recommend his work enough, so I'll just ask you this: Do you want to be happier?

Then read Pigtails & Potbellies.

Dreams Can Come True... Especially Weird Ones
Some of you will remember, back in January, when I posted It Turns Out I Have a Secret History -- about discovering that my great-grandfather, Victor Lauriston, had written short stories for the old pulp magazines. Including, to my shock and delight, for the great-grandfather of modern fantasy and horror fiction, Weird Tales. H. P. Lovecraft was featured in the same issue.

Through a fortuitous bit of web alchemy, Steven H. Segal, the editorial and creative director of Weird Tales -- yes, it's still going strong -- saw that post, and asked if I'd be interested in telling my story in the 85th Anniversary issue of Weird Tales.

To say that I was, yes, definitely interested would be to understate the case by several orders of magnitude. It's fair to say that email was the most exciting thing that happened to me in January -- and I got my new job that month.

So: My piece appears in the current issue of Weird Tales, the 85th Anniversary issue, #349. It's available in stores, or directly from the publisher.

I'm in Weird Tales.


To say that this is a dream come true is not hyperbole, but a simple statement of fact. A weird dream, to be sure. But my dream.

And, just to give great-grandfather a run for his money? Also featured in this issue are luminaries like Ken Hite, Tanith Lee...

And Michael Moorcock.

I doubt I'll be able to top this one, but I'll have more updates next week, plus any one-off rants that time permits in between.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cold Iron Badge Preview 2

Pages 4 - 7 of Cold Iron Badge. This scene introduces our protagonist, by the way. (Click images to enlarge.)

Cold Iron Badge

By Stephen Geigen-Miller and Patrick Heinicke

Coming Soon

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Adventures of Sunday Sundries Across the 8th Dimension

I'm once again invoking artistic license, and proceeding with numbering these updates as though there had been a 'Sunday Sundries VII' last week. Mostly because the Buckaroo Banzai reference was too much fun to wait another week for.

I skipped the update because, well, not a whole lot of note had been happening. I spent a lot of last weekend too tired to do much besides stare at the walls, after having coordinated moving the office to a new space that Friday.

No, I didn't have to do the actually lifting and carrying -- and thank goodness -- but the stress of being responsible for the whole deal wore me right out. Keep in mind, I've had my job for less than two months, and I was single-handedly dealing with organizing the whole move. Exciting, I learned a lot and the new location is great. But it was tiring.

But that was last weekend.


Yes, I've been writing, and man does it ever feel good. I realized that it wasn't that I don't have any time -- it's that the time I do have wasn't allowing me to write in the way I was used to.

So the solution was a change of approach.

I've been writing on my lunch hour -- the new space is on the third floor of an office building, and there's a small cafe on the main floor. If I take a late lunch, it's pretty quiet and there's lots of space.

I wasn't sure what kind of results I'd get, having just under a hour to write. But it seems to be working out so far, as does the other big change -- writing longhand.

Yeah. Longhand. My laptop is old, clunky and has a lousy battery, so it would be a pain to drag along on my morning commute, and a bigger pain to try to use in the cafe.

But my notebook and a pen? Hella portable.

Old school, that's me.

Cold Iron Badge!

What have I been working on, this past week of lunch hours? I've been doing a bit of editing on a friend's project, but mostly I've been getting back to Cold Iron Badge. And I finally, finally seem to be getting some traction on my script for Chapter 3.

In more exciting news, Patrick has finished pencilling Chapter 1 -- congratulations! -- with a hefty chunk of those pages also inked and lettered. Which means that we'll have another preview for you shortly!

Coming Soon: Sunday Sundries Against the World Crime League!

There's a lot more to talk about -- especially the big online discussion that's developed over the past couple of weeks regarding the economics of webcomics, but that's a big enough topic to warrant a post of its own.

I'll try to marshal my thoughts on that sometime this week. Assuming that I don't have to move any more offices, that is!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Sundries VI: The Undiscovered Blog

Well, I feel tres nerdy, dropping Star Trek references in the titles of the three most recent Sunday Sundries. But really: Not a lot of franchises get to six. It's Star Trek, Star Wars and various slasher series from the 80's about nubile adolescents being disembowelled. And I very much didn't want to call this update Sunday Sundries VI: I Stab Your Naked Head.

Wasn't this Supposed to be a Writing Blog?

So, it's the end of a long weekend -- no holiday on Monday for me. Progress on my writing continues to be of the barely-eked-out variety, but it is happening. While things are still going swimmingly at my job, life has been handing me a few lemons on other fronts lately -- enough to outstrip my capacity for lemonade-making.

My writers group meets this week, and I'm hoping that will help to re-energize me.

That's about it. I was hoping to pull it all together with a witty conclusion for you, but that seems to be beyond my capabilities tonight. Eh, they can't all be gems.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Sundries V: The Bad One Where I Ask Why God Needs A Starship

Outrage quota met; now back to work!

Whew. The big Bill C-10 post is done (see below), and I'm glad. To be honest, it had turned into kind of a monkey on my back. I only have so much time so write, and when I use that time to blog about writing, rather than, you know, actually doing it... Well, let's be gentle and say that it feels like maybe not the best approach to time-management.

Rewarming the Cold Iron Badge

I'm going to work on the work-family-me time balance this week. I've set myself a goal of having two important things completed for Cold Iron Badge by the end of the Easter weekend. One is Chapter 3, which has been taking far too long. The other... well, no point in going into that unless it pans out. Honestly, it's nothing too exciting yet.

Dammit, Jim!

Hey... Come to think of it, why would God need a starship...?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Say No to Bill C-10

All right, you keep talking about this Bill C-10 business. What is it?

Bill C-10 is what's called an omnibus bill; that means that it bundles together a bunch of changes to many laws and treats them as one act of legislation in order to get them all approved in a timely manner.

It's apparently about 500 pages long, and mostly involves absolutely trivial changes to tax codes and related regulations. It was also a housecleaning bill, an effort to try to make changes that have been planned since the Liberals were in office.

It sailed through the House of Commons with approval by all the political parties.

That sounds efficient and non-partisan. What's the problem?

The problem is that, buried deep in the legislation, was this change to the rules governing tax credits for film and television production:

“Canadian film or video production certificate” means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production in respect of which that Minister is satisfied that

(a) except where the production is a treaty co-production (as defined by regulation), an acceptable share of revenues from the exploitation of the production in non-Canadian markets is, under the terms of any agreement, retained by

(i) a qualified corporation that owns or owned an interest in, or for civil law a right in, the production,
(ii) a prescribed taxable Canadian corporation related to the qualified corporation, or
(iii) any combination of corporations described in subparagraph (i) or (ii); and

(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.

Okay, blah blah blah party of the first part, eyes glazing over... Wait a minute!


"Contrary to public policy"? What does that even mean?

Apparently that would be at the discretion of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, but it would include "gratuitous" sex and violence, and other projects that include "criminal content".

Wow. Do a lot of people make Canadian movies and TV with criminal content?

According to representatives of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage itself? It has never happened.

Well, who decides what "gratuitous" sex and violence is?

A panel appointed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, made up of representatives from the Ministries of Heritage and Justice.

What criteria would they use?

They either don't know or won't say.

Okay, that's kind of reactionary and heavy-handed, but this is public money, right? Maybe it shouldn't go to controversial projects?

That's where the argument gets even more complicated, I'm afraid. The tax credit system isn't "arts funding." Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fun do that sort of funding -- where money is paid out to creators to provide direct financial support to their projects.

The tax credit really is what it sounds like -- a credit towards money invested in the production of Canadian film and television, to compensate for the cost of salaries.

The tax credit, in other words, allows Canadians to profit by paying Canadians to make Canadian productions.

Because those salaries are a huge percentage of production expenses, the tax credit comprises a significant part of the budgets of Canadian film and TV. Because it's money investors/funders are guaranteed to get back, it has become a vital part of production budgets -- essentially as "in-kind" funding. And it has never been dependent on content in any way -- as long as a production qualifies as Can-con, it qualifies for tax credits.

Putting that previously-certain funding in jeopardy means putting the financial underpinnings of the entire system in jeopardy. It means that artists, producers and funders will be put in the position of having to self-censor -- deciding whether to risk their money on whether or not the Minister of Heritage and a panel of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats decide your project is "offensive."

Because the criteria, apparently, will be retroactive. A movie or TV production could be approved, then have its tax credits yanked after the fact.

The resulting investment chill would make it difficult to develop a project with any controversial, thought-provoking, transgressive or intellectually and artistically challenging content at all. Investors simply won't be able to risk it.

Whose stupid idea was this?

Prominent religious-right types in Canada were giving themselves rather public pats on the back over having convinced the Conservative government to move this law forward. Ironically, that was probably one of the key factors in stirring up public opinion against it.

The Conservatives deny it, saying in their own defence that the Liberals are actually the ones who cooked up that part of C-10. It's true; the idea for the provision originated some years ago, when Sheila Copps was Heritage Minister. There was an understandable -- although, you will notice, quickly forgotten -- uproar over a movie about Karla Homolka being eligible for tax credits. Just like every other movie and TV show that meets the existing guidelines (the guidelines are, basically, "no news, sports, reality shows, games shows or porn get tax credits.")

So the idea of introducing a "public policy" clause to the tax credit system was cooked up. But it was a bad idea.

I find the notion of cashing in on Karla Homolka's infamy absolutely disgusting. But as wiser people than I have pointed out, "Tough cases make bad laws." Panic legislation -- law made in a frenzy of overreaction to a single, egregious event -- tends to go much too far, much too fast, with far too little reasoned debate.

This is a classic example. Giving politicians and bureaucrats arbitrary power to decide what movies and TV shows can and can't be made? I don't care who thought of it; it's a bad, dangerous piece of legislation. I don't care who stops it; it just needs to be stopped.

The Liberals, incidentally, claim that the Conservatives tweaked the wording in a way that would give the Heritage Minister much more arbitrary power to decide what constitutes being "contrary to public policy", including the "after the fact" part.

But is it really censorship?

As I mentioned in my last post, that's a thorny issue. So thorny, that I'm going to stick with the short answer. Yes.

Come on. It's not really censorship, is it?

In the strictest, most semantic sense? No, no it isn't.

But in a real, practical sense the intent is clearly censorious, and the effect would be indistinguishable from censorship. The insidious and cowardly part is that because it isn't technically censorship, the government can deny that it's attacking freedom of expression while still making it impossible for movies and TV shows they disapprove of to get made.

Is this thing a done deal?

Not quite. As I mentioned, because C-10 was a 500-page omnibus bill that was supposed to only contain technical tax law changes that everyone had already agreed to, it sailed through the House of Commons with absolutely no scrutiny, and then went to the Senate -- normally pretty much a technicality.

Then someone actually read the thing. And spotted the new part. And a public uproar ensued. Almost everyone in Canadian film and TV blew their collective gaskets, free speech advocates joined in and the media started paying attention.

So the Senate yanked the Bill from moving on to third reading -- which would have passed it -- and sent it back to the Senate's Banking, Trade and Investment Committee for scrutiny. They have the power to propose changes to Bill C-10, and send the revised version back to the Commons. The Liberal majority leader in the Senate has promised that they will send it back with changes remove the censorious component of the Bill.

Wait. The Canadian Senate did something useful?

We were all surprised.

And what can we do?

You can speak out, so the Senators know that their leadership on this issue is appreciated, and their action supported by a broad spectrum of public opinion.

You can write to the Prime Minister, the Heritage Minister, and the leaders and culture critics in the opposition parties, so they know that we are opposed to Bill C-10 as it stands, and demand they withdraw any component of it that would directly or indirectly censor Canadian film and TV production.

You can join the Facebook group that was formed in opposition to C-10; there were a few hundred members when I joined, a day or so after news of the Bill's provisions swept through the industry. Now there are over 34,000. It's a great source for more background, contact info for sending letters and emails, and news about what others are doing to help stop C-10.

The stakes are nothing less than freedom of speech, the future of Canadian film and TV as both an industry and art form, and stopping the government from sneakily using tax policy to enforce a reactionary conservative social agenda.

Please do what you can. Join me in saying no to Bill C-10!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday Sundries IV: The Funny One Where I Travel in Time to Save the Whales

Something Semantic, Something Pedantic.

I keep trying to write something about Bill C-10, and why it's an odious attempt to use tax credits for film and TV production to attack freedom of expression. But I keep getting hung up trying to address the issue of whether it really, technically qualifies as censorship, or not.

I'm just going to have to do an end-run around the hair-splitting. C-10 post coming soon, with the censorship issue tidily ignored.

I Continue to Suck

I also still haven't made much creative progress; that makes three weeks running, and it's starting to piss me off. I need to find a way to deal with this, work, take care of the family, make time to write and do it without having to stay up so late that I turn into a freakin' sleep deprivation zombie.

Webcomics that Bring the Awesome

I mentioned Socks and Barney a little while ago, but it bears repeating: Steve Conley's political satire starring past, present and aspiring White House pets is smart, pointed and funny. And he occasionally quotes me!

And I totally have such a crush on Octopus Pie. Meredith Gran's strip about two young women living in Brooklyn is not only one of the best, and funniest Odd Couple riffs I've seen in a long time, it somehow manages to be scathingly sarcastic and adorable at the same time.

Daylight Saving Time: Threat or Menace?

Right. I've been staring at the screen trying to figure out a clever, dynamic way to wrap up this post for entirely too long. My brain in shutting down. I'm off to try to get my body clock straightened out, post-Spring Forward.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I've Read 3d6 Lame "He Failed His Saving Throw" Jokes Already

I don't think I'll be surprising any of you when I state, for the record, that I am a king-hell geek.

And my route to geekdom wasn't science fiction and fantasy, which was only one part of my voracious appetite for books. It wasn't comics -- most people assume that, since I write the things, but I didn't really get into comics and graphic novels until university. That's Greg's fault, and a more fitting subject for another post.

No, it was role-playing games. And for that, you can blame Patrick, the co-creator and artist of Cold Iron Badge, who introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, about twenty-seven years ago.

My first adventure was the legendary (and infamous) module, The Keep on the Borderlands. I played a Thief. I don't recall what his name was. He didn't survive my first game session, but I was hooked for life.

I discovered role-playing games and acting at very close to the same time, only about a year after my family moved from Toronto to London, Ontario. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but I was feeling tremendous culture shock and alienation. I didn't fit in to my monocultural suburb where most of the other kids were budding Type-A-personality jocks. I needed to escape, and yet I needed to belong. I managed to find two ways to do both, and they both involved my personal ace: My imagination.

And, maybe because gaming and acting came into my life and became my passions together, there was always some overlap in my approach to them.

Acting was very much a game for me. And I brought acting to my role-playing games years before more immersive, emotionally intense gaming became popular. Which sometimes disconcerted my peers. They just wanted to kill things and take their stuff, and suddenly my elf would start asking whether it was really moral to break into these ancient tombs and loot them.

So, I role-played like an actor, and performed like a gamer. Did either suffer from the cross-pollination? No, I don't think so. And I also think, oddly enough, that both helped to make me a better writer.

Okay, the acting you can probably see. But am I reaching to say that D&D improved my writing?

Well, an old-school role-playing game, where you sit around a table and have to picture what's happening in your head with only some description and maybe a scribbled map and some simple miniatures, is a great exercise for the imagination. If you can't see it, vividly, you might miss something important.

A lot of games -- especially those old D&D adventures -- were all about the creative problem solving. (And having cool powers and killing things, but that's another story.)

Role-playing games are inherently collaborative. Success depends on collaboration between the players, and between their characters. The entire game is a collaboration between the players and the Dungeon Master. Is it a coincidence that I'm drawn to inherently collaborative media, that most of my best writing has been done in collaboration?

And, of course, role-playing games are about creating a vivid, exciting, compelling character, and then bringing that character to life by putting them through interesting and challenging situations.

And that doesn't even touch on running the game -- being the Dungeon Master. Which involves, for starters, bringing to life a cast of thousands, intricate plots, cooking up creative problems to be solved and inventing entire worlds to inhabit.

So yes: Gaming, like acting, was protein to my growing writing muscles. But drama club is one thing. It's marginally less uncool than being a D&D geek. Was the creative aspect really what mattered? Maybe you ask, weren't all those role-playing games escapist?

Hell, yes they were escapist! And thank goodness. Sometimes we all need to escape. Especially bright but socially awkward kids and adolescents who aren't sporty or pretty enough to be on the popularity fast-track.

Escape, yes. But also friendship. Fun. Empowerment. Imagination and a creative outlet. And through it all, no matter what other games I played, and no matter how much I loved them, there was Dungeons & Dragons. I played it first. I played for close to three decades. I'd be playing it now if I could.

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died today. He was 69. I never met him. Never had a chance to thank him in person. So I'm going to thank him now.

Thank you, Gary. Thank you for giving me hours (days! weeks!) of fun. Thank you for helping me develop my imagination. Thank you for giving me worlds to play in, where I could be happy and safe while I grew and got stronger and learned who I am.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunday Sundries III: The Search for Sunday

I missed updating on the "real" Sunday. So I am proclaiming today -- Monday, March 3rd -- a "Sunday of the heart." As a wise man -- okay it was Cowboy Wally -- once said, "I consider every day to be Sunday." It may not be accurate, but it's truthy.

Oh, sure... I could just accept not posting on Sunday and move on, but then I'd have to come up with another clever name, and I don't think I have it in me. Monday Meanderings? Monday Miscellaneary? Not The Sunday Sundries? Ugh. No. See what I mean? Let's just agree that today is Sunday.

But it wouldn't have made the hugest difference, to be honest; there isn't a whole lot to relate this week. Between work and a bug that I picked up (via the kids' day care? Through the doctors I work with? Bad oyster? Who knows...) I haven't done much on the creative front.

Oh, I finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Yeah, a little late. But I promised myself that wouldn't buy it and read it until the first weekend after my first paycheque at a new job, as a reward. So, I am now unafraid of spoilers and can get on with my life. I will impose a review on the rest of you if anyone is really interested.

I managed to read while sick, but not write -- so I haven't made as much progress on my screenplay or on Cold Iron Badge as I would have liked.

However, the next Cold Iron Badge preview should be ready for posting soon. It introduces the protagonist, who you haven't met yet.

Sorry. I'll try to be more interesting this week, and have a fun anecdote about moose-wrasslin' or some such next time out.

I should also post about Bill C-10, and how Canada's conservative government is trying to use what looked like a brain-numbingly dull omnibus bill of tax code revisions to try to impose their narrow ideology and intolerant Puritanism on funding for Canadian film and TV. But that'll have to wait until my brain clears just a little more.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Sundries 2: Electric Blog-aloo

The weekly round-up returns. With a vengeance. Well, no. But it returns.

Socks & Barney Tips the Hat to an Ignorant Canadian!

Fellow comics guy Steve Conley is an old friend from the convention circuit. I was surprised to see that his new webcomic was political satire. Not because I didn't think he had the wit or cartooning chops to pull it off -- he's got those in spades. But Steve has always been in the running for the title of Nicest Guy In Comics; did he have the touch of Alien-esque acid in his blood that a satirist needs?

Oh yeah, he does. Socks & Barney, which is basically election year political commentary by the Clintons' cat and George W. Bush's dog, with a supporting cast of real and fictional pets of the various candidates, quickly became one of my daily must-reads. It's smart and funny and has just the right amount of acid.

Anyway, Steve runs news and commentary about the presidential race on his web page as well; I forwarded him a couple of links to articles in the Toronto Star about the Democrats Abroad primary (which Barack Obama won handily). He posted them, with a very kind tip of the hat to me. If you have any interest in the future of America and therefore, you know, the world, you really should check out Socks & Barney.

New Job: Awesome, But Time-Consuming!

My new job -- it's at the University of Toronto -- has been great so far, but the adjustment to my schedule has certainly impacted on my writing time. I'm getting up a bit earlier, although not a lot, because the kids are early risers anyway. And then I'm busy until after they're in bed. And then I'm pretty worn out, which doesn't make for the most productive writing time.

But the good energy that came from landing my job -- and the feeling of generally coming unstuck that came with it -- have balanced out the tiredness a bit. I've gotten back to Chapter Three of Cold Iron Badge, which is going to be challenging and a lot of fun to write. And I've been mulling over other projects, too, like finally finishing one of my back-burnered screenplays. More news as it happens, of course.

The Writers Continue to Group!

My writers group met last week, which was cool, because one of my projects was up for discussion. Unfortunately, illness and confusion led to a lower-than-usual turnout (and there are only five of us to start with), so Nicole and Dave had to bear the considerable burden of critiquing me on their own. But they were able to rise to the occasion admirably.

I submitted Act One of one of the long-neglected screenplays that I mentioned above, and came away with some really good feedback that will help me build a better second draft. Of course, I really should finish the first draft first...

More Cold Iron Badge Coming Soon!

Patrick just needs to finish some final edits, and then we'll be posting a second preview of finished pages for Cold Iron Badge. I'm very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cold Iron Badge Preview

As promised, the finished Cold Iron Badge teaser. These are the first three pages (click the image to enlarge)...
Cold Iron Badge

By Stephen Geigen-Miller and Pat Heinicke

Coming Soon

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Sundries

I Have A New Job!

I start Monday. This will obviously have an impact on my writing, but the funny thing is, it might be a good one. Unemployment is pretty enervating and depressing. I'll have less "free time" now, but I'll probably put it to better use.

Good Triumphs For Once!

The deal is tentative, and has yet to be voted on by the membership, but it looks like the Writer's Guild of America strike is over.

While the agreement they reached with the studios doesn't contain everything the WGA hoped for -- no new contract ever does, really -- the writers stayed strong, and united, and made significant gains.

Congratulations to the members of the WGA!

New Cold Iron Badge Teaser Coming!

At least one person has mentioned wanting to see a Cold Iron Badge sampler that contains, you know, words to go with the pictures.

I will be pleased to oblige. I'll post the finished version of pages 1 - 3 shortly (that's the same material I posted earlier, but with finished art, and yes... words.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It Turns Out I Have a Secret History...

So, I'm sitting here trying to decompress. I was supposed to have a job interview today, but a crisis interfered. I have yet to hear back to find out if I can reschedule and interview for the extremely good job I was hoping to land. Like I said, trying to decompress.

So, I'm trying to think about other things. And I remembered something really, really cool that I haven't had a chance to blog about yet.

A couple of posts back, in my response to the Eight Things You Didn't Know About Me meme, I mentioned being a fourth-generation writer.

The first generation (that I know of) was my great-grandfather, Victor Lauriston. For those of you keeping score at home: Yep, that's where my middle name, Victor, comes from.

He was best known as a journalist and historian; he wrote histories of Kent County (around Chatham, Ontario, his home) and its towns that are still considered definitive. There's a school named after him there. He was beloved and justly acclaimed.

He also wrote fiction. I've read a couple of his novels; one of them was pretty clearly a thinly-disguised autobiography about a young man in southwestern Ontario who wants to be a writer.

The protagonist of that novel is said, in passing, to have tried writing short stories for both U.S. and Canadian publications, without much success.

I never knew whether that was part of the thinly-veiled autobiography or not.

Until this week.

I was thinking about my great-grandfather, partly because of that blog post, and partly because he's the only other person in my family to focus on writing fiction at all. The last time I tried looking him up online, I got a lot of mentions of the school that bears his name, and a couple of citations of his books in other works.

But the web, of course, is ever-growing, so I thought it was worth another check.


I found several websites devoted to short stories, and specific magazines. I found an incomplete list of Victor Lauriston's published short fiction (the site apparently tries to list every short short writer ever; this page starts with the LAU's, but you'll still need to scroll down.)

And check out that list! My great-grandfather wrote pulp. He wrote mysteries. Westerns. Thrillers. Adventure stories.

He was published in Black Mask. And Argosy! Eighty years ago, my great-grandfather was in on the ground floor of the genres that I write in today.

That's amazing. That's awesome.

But that? That wasn't even the jackpot. The reason I know that the list that I linked to above is incomplete is that I found another online reference to a published story by Victor Lauriston. That reference is on a site devoted to a particular magazine.

His story, 'A Changeling Soul', appeared in the January, 1925 issue of that publication.

Of Weird Tales.

Weird Tales

Weird Tales, to put all this into a little context, was a seminal pulp magazine. It created the modern horror and fantasy genres as we understand them, just as other pulps of the day launched modern science-fiction.

How seminal was Weird Tales? Some of the other writers published in the very same issue were legendary figures like Frank Belknap Long and E. Hoffman Price.

Oh, and some guy called H. P. Lovecraft.

Something that I thought was, y'know, just me writing weird tales has suddenly turned into a family connection to Weird Tales. H. P. Lovecraft probably read my great-grandfather's story. My great-grandfather probably read Lovecraft's.

It's a little dizzying to suddenly perceive a legacy that stretches back across generations, and ties me, however tenuously, to the deepest roots of my chosen field. And I know it sounds kind of goofy, but it's somehow incredibly validating. My striving is connected to history -- family history, and the history of the genres I love -- and that makes it seem almost epic in scope.

Now, of course, I have to track down the January, 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

I wish I could let my great-grandfather know that I, for one, consider his achievements as an author of short stories to be profoundly impressive.

And man, do I wish that Weird Tales had a "legacy writers" clause...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fear: Is it really the mind-killer?

I've been blogging for long enough that I know that people are actually reading this thing (I thank both of you), and I'm starting to get a little more comfortable with all the blogosphere stuff.

Like, as I did with my previous post, passing along online memes. Or using the term "Friend of the Blog."

I have just now elected Brandon Laraby a Friend of the Blog. We've never met or spoken. But I commented on his blog once, and he replied. In online terms, that makes us BFF's, so a Friend of the Blog he is.

Brandon, like me, is an aspiring writer who's blogging the process and experience of trying to break in. But he's a bit more audacious than I am -- the goal he's set for himself is being the creator of his own original TV series. Check out A Tale of a Boy and his TV Show, and follow his adventures.

As you can imagine, one reason that Brandon's blog interests me is that we seem to be on very similar journeys, albeit at rather different stages of our lives. But recently, a particular post hit me, and it hit me like an overused metaphor.

Because what Brandon is writing about here is - I was going to apologize for the presumptuousness of putting words in the mouth of someone that I don't actually know, but then I thought, "No. I'm a writer. That's what I do!"

Anyway what I think he's writing about is something that I have also been dealing with in my own writing: Fear.

Yeah, fear.

The fear that drives us, as writers, away from certain choices, certain kinds of and approaches to material, and towards others. Brandon has I think, and to his credit, confronted his fear; he blogs about realizing that he needs to follow the impulse that's pushing him towards creating darker, more intense material.

I need to confront the fear.

The fear of my ideas. Of the work they would lead to. Of the places I'd go, the parts of myself I'd be visiting, to do justice to those ideas.

I don't necessarily consider myself a comedic writer, but I do pride myself on writing witty characters. I don't write comedies; I write dramas about people who just happen to be funny.

But what that sometimes means is that my characters and I are hiding behind irony, banter and word-play. Hiding from real emotion.

There are stories I want and need to tell that will require me to convey, and to feel, real emotions. Dark, scary emotions. The kind you can't portray with a witty quip, or a quick montage of a happy couple running through a field with balloons.

And I'm scared of those feelings. Scared of anger, pain, hatred, despair. Scared of fear.

But Frank Herbert was right: Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

It's okay to be scared of the darkness, scared of what I'll need to confront if I go down into the bad places inside of me. But I can't let that fear rule me. If I do, I'm limiting myself as a writer, and as a human being too. It's good to be clever, witty and entertaining. But I can go farther, if I don't let fear hold me back. It would be wrong to let fear obliterate my stories, or my art.

So that's why I thank Brandon Laraby, who I've never met, and who is a Friend of the Blog: He reminded me that I need to face my demons.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eight Things

It had to happen sooner or later: Member of the blognoscente, all around smart guy and friend-of-the-blog Rob 'Tragic Lad' Clark tagged me with a blog meme.

Well, there are worse ways to kick-start blogging in the new year. So, without further ado...

Eight Things You Didn't Know About Me

I was almost an actor

I came out of high school having been a die-hard drama-club member. I had found friends, community, acceptance and a love of the theatre. I had a virulent case of the acting bug. Nothing, I once said, made me feel more alive than acting. Oh, one more thing: I was good.

I applied to every Canadian university with a decent theatre program (both of them) and got into York University.

Now, theatre students at York generalize for their first year, then specialize into streams. Some streams require an audition - including, needless to say, acting. I was accepted.

My short version - the cute anecdote version - is to say that I learned something very important in university: I learned that I didn't want to be an actor.

The longer version is that I didn't really fit into the acting program -- maybe I was too cerebral, maybe I just didn't get it -- and I wasn't asked back for third year. That by itself might not have been enough to stop me from acting, although it was a big blow to my confidence. But so many other things came up at the same time. There were personal and family crises that sapped my strength and focus and threw me into a pretty serious depression.

On the less-miserable side, it was also the time that Greg and I starting developing and writing Xeno's Arrow, which gave me a creative focus and outlet outside of acting.

Not being an actor may be one of the main reasons that I'm a writer.

My fifteen minutes may, in fact, already be up

I spent the summer of '93 living in Toronto in a basement apartment with some friends, scrambling from odd job to odd job. The phone sales jobs were lousy, didn't last and the less said about them the better.

But then I started getting work as an extra.

If you don't have a really expensive lifestyle, or too many responsibilities, being an extra is great. Decent hours at about minimum wage, but with free food and (because it's actually more economical to keep 100 extras waiting around than it is a small film crew, or 1 star) very little actual work. A lot of time is spent reading, playing cards, flirting - everything I would have been doing anyway, but for money and all the cheap coffee I could drink.

I didn't get work on anything that'll stand the test of time, but there is a movie where you can not only pick me out of the background, but wherein I actually fill the screen for a few seconds.

Yeah. PCU.

The scene I'm most clearly visible in - the one where my mug is front-and-centre on the screen, briefly but recognizably - was actually one of the funnier moments in the film (and I say that without pride, since it's not like I was "acting" or anything - I look like that because I was wicked hung over that day. So, thanks, Sean and Michelle!)

Not only that, but apparently that same scene was included in the theatrical trailer (on the "put all the good jokes in the previews" principle, I assume.)

So, here's a sobering thought: It's possible - it's likely! - that although PCU. was hardly a blockbuster, between the trailer and the movie itself, more people have seen me in it then ever have, or ever will, read everything I've written put together.

I have been way naked in public.

Yeah, it was a frosh week thing. You may have done this yourself, or heard of it - a competition called a "clothes line." Everybody splits up into teams, starts to get undressed, and lines up their clothes on the ground. Longest line wins.

Well, my team didn't win, but that wasn't for lack of trying on my part. I got down to my drawers. And I was thinking. Or rather, not really thinking. You know, frosh week is an exciting time, and you only get one chance to make a first impression, right?

So yes. I went All. The. Way.

And that was how most of the people in residence met me.

(Oh, bonus fact: Someone who is now a well-known Canadian comedian and TV star was on my team. But she only went as far as her skivvies. You know who you are...)

I have climbed the CN Tower

People who only met me before or after the time in my life that I was in shape probably don't know just how fit I actually was. The difference between "thin Stephen" and, uh, "not-quite-so-thin Stephen" is almost as dramatic as the difference between "thin Elvis" and "not-quite-so-thin Elvis." I was at the gym an average of five times a week, alternating between hard cardio and weights. I was never a super-cut, bo-hunky jock - I don't have the bone structure or the willpower to avoid fluids for days at a time - but I was fit.

How fit? One fine October day in 2002, I climbed the CN Tower.

Okay, I didn't free-hand scale the exterior or anything. The CN Tower Stair Climb is an annual charitable event in Toronto to benefit the United Way (there's another one that happens every spring that benefits the World Wildlife Fund). You sign up as an individual or as part of a company team, get donations and you climb the stairs from the ground floor to the Observation Deck of one of the tallest free-standing structures in the world.

How many steps is that? One thousand, seven hundred seventy-six.

Yeah, I was fit. While I'm all for supporting the United Way, I was mainly doing it as a symbol to myself - a symbol of progress and achievement. I had done a lot to lose weight, to make more active, more healthy, more fit.

Since then - years of stressful jobs and all the anxieties that go with parenthood - I've gotten pretty far out of shape again. But I still, once upon a time, climbed the freaking CN Tower. I know what I can do when I really try, really go for a goal. And now, my goal is to do it again. Maybe in the fall of this year, maybe in the Spring of 2009. But I've done it before, and I will do it again.

My time, by the way, was 18 minutes, 36 seconds.

I'm a fourth-generation writer

My parents were both newspaper reporters. My grandmother - my dad's mother - was also a reporter, and is still a working writer. Her father was an acclaimed journalist, historian, and novelist. There's a school named after him in Kent County.

So I'm in the fourth - currently, the least professionally successful, but I am continuing the legacy - generation in my family to make writing a vocation and a career.

That makes me unusual in my circle of friends - I never experienced growing up in one of those families where writing (or another creative pursuit) was considered impractical, exotic, or weird. Writing was just something people did.

The ink in my veins? It runs very deep.

I have seen the Greys

Like many of my fellow Gen-X-ish types, I went through a conspiracy theory phase. It was the zeitgeist, I guess. X-Files was on the air, and books and comics were all about "conspiracy chic."

The embarrassing part is that I managed to develop and nurture my obsession without the benefit of pot.

But yeah, I lapped that stuff up with a spoon. I didn't really believe there were Nazi UFO bases at the South Pole, or Satanist clones on the Moon, but it sure was fun to think about. And I did believe that governments were in league with the military-industrial complex to do horrible things. Which they are, but I took the obvious and true examples of such as proof of the esoteric, baroque, whacked-out shit.

I was widely read in the field. I thought about this stuff all the time.

And there came a time that I was working back-to-back double shifts at my horrible, stressful, crappy dead-end service job at the infamous Fun City. Back-to-back double shifts, for nearly two weeks. I wasn't sleeping much, or well. I was living on coffee and candy bars. And I was re-reading Communion to relax.

And there came a night that I saw them. The Greys. The little grey aliens with the big heads and eyes. The Zeta Reticulans.

Oh, just out of the corner of my eye, in the dark. I didn't think they'd taken me anywhere or, you know, done any probing. But I saw them.

And, fortunately, the rational part of my brain was strong enough - awake enough - to say, "Dude. That didn't actually happen. You need to calm down."

I went to bed. Got a good night's sleep. Went cold-turkey on conspiracy theories. Oh, and I read Foucault's Pendulum to deprogram myself.

I thank my lucky stars that the internet wasn't quite as ubiquitous in those days. If, instead of getting a good night's sleep, I had had the option of going online and "researching" what I'd just seen, I might have found some sort of validation for it. And that could have started me down the slippery slope to the Land of Tinfoil Hats.

As it was, I escaped unscathed, but with a keen understanding of just how closely we skate to the edge of the irrational, and a newfound skepticism that has served me well over the years.

I cried at the end of 'A.I.'

Actually, I wept. Like a baby.

I know. I know, okay? I'm not going to get into the details; they're very personal. I'm a good enough writer to know when I'm being gamed by the story, and I knew Spielberg was gaming me even as the tears were running down my cheeks.

I know. I know. You know what? I don't have to justify myself to you. Moving on...

I have calmed down a lot

I have a bit of a reputation - especially, and this is ironic, but understandable, among my dear friends who have known me for a long time - of being very verbally combative. Of delighting in debate and argument for their own sake. Of uncalled-for, pointless sarcasm - not necessarily wit, but sarcasm of megascovillean proportions. I could be freaking venemous, sometimes in the service of something I really believed in, but just as often as an intellectual exercise or to vent my emotions.

You know, I don't really have time for that crap anymore.

A lot has changed since my blistering-snark-at-the-drop-of-a-hat days. I'm older. I'm not an underemployed slacker anymore. I've kissed girls. I've developed a thicker skin. There are only so many hours in a day, and I don't even get to spend enough time doing important, fun and fulfilling stuff that makes me and other people feel good - why waste precious minutes being angry or making someone else feel bad?

Oh, I'm still sarcastic, no doubt about it. I still enjoy banter - in my circle, that tends to be how we roll. But I don't seek argument for its own sake. I try to have a sense of proportion. I avoid invective, even in discussions where I feel strongly about an issue.

I mean, who wants to be remembered - by their friends, let alone everyone else - as "that argumentative, sarcastic, kind of mean guy"?

Not me.

So yes. I have calmed down. A lot.

Thus endeth the epistle.

I actually doubt that anyone who doesn't know at least a couple of those things is following my blog. Conversely, anyone who knows all eight is probably married to me. Do let me know if anything you've read was genuinely a surprise, okay?

As per Rob's post, I'm going to tag some friends and fellow-bloggers in the hopes of passing the meme along. Let's see... who's blogging?

Okay, how 'bout Dilys, Tara, Rachel and Michael? And anyone else who feels inspired!