ACE BAKER has won the Magpie Poetry Award, the PNWA Poetry Prize, the SIWC Poetry Contest, and The Roux Press Poetry Prize. His short story "Victory Girl" won the Storyteller Award. Ace maintains a website at www.fighttowrite.com and can be followed @writeracebaker

Guest post by Anastasia Stratu: UNHAPPY ENDINGS: Will Amazon Control Our Reading?

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Today, I have a guest post for you from a writer who creates technofantasy worlds and also blogs about social media and marketing. In other words, a right-brainer AND a left-brainer! Meet Anastasia Stratu:

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Unhappy Endings – Will Amazon Control Our Reading? by Anastasia Stratu

This article by Chris Abouzeid caused quite a stir in my head. Actually, I was infuriated as I pictured the prospect.Article intro and my own comment/rant below:Chris:

“If you’re using a Kindle to read ebooks, Amazon already knows a lot about you. They know you bought all the 50 Shades of Grey books. They know how quickly or slowly you read them. They know on which page you got bored and stopped reading, or which passages you highlighted for further “investigation.” In fact, at any given moment, publishers and big retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are trying to gather as much data about you as they can—and they’re succeeding.
Unfortunately, it’s not a one way street. Not only can they keep track of what you’re reading. They can also control what you get to read. Violate the terms of agreement for that copy of Capital in the 21st Century? Poof! It’s gone from your library. Something funny going on with your account? Zap! Your entire library is gone. Yes, Amazon can delete things from your Kindle. And they can push ads onto your Kindle—whether you want them there or not.
So with all this data flowing back and forth, doesn’t it seem like the next logical step will be for publishers and retailers to control what’s in the books themselves? Ebooks won’t just be digital text anymore. They’ll be smart ebooks. Everything about smart ebooks will be mutable. And everything inside them will be for sale.
Me [Anastasia Stratu]:
Great. That’s taking the concept of fanfic a bit too far. Authors having no control over their canon of stories after they are published? It’s like someone would ship my kid to the hospital and perform surgery on him without even calling me first.
OK, as a reader, if I cross some contractually established line, be my guest, delete my Kindle library – I personally prefer hardcopy anyway!
But as an author, I will not tolerate Amazon and its likes fobbing off consumer-customized versions of what we so painstakingly create and therefore want to offer in unadulterated form to our readers.
And what happens after I die? Join Charlotte Brontё in a jolly turning-over-in-our-graves session? Dominatrix Jane Eyre my bass! (this is just a fish-themed euphemism – you know what I mean!)
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t this little Geschaft be out of line in terms of copyright law? I’m no specialist, but here’s what my research of copyright violation for rookies yielded:
“Even if you rewrite someone else’s work, it can still be a copyright violation. For example, spinning a copyrighted article or making minor word changes to someone else’s story could still run afoul of copyright laws. If you take a concept from someone else’s work — such as a business idea or character — and then use that material for your business, this could be a violation of copyright laws. Whether or not it’s a violation will depend on how closely you copied someone else’s concept and whether you had permission.” (c) Houston Chronicle
To my innocent non-lawyer eyes, this is violation of the letter of the law if not of its spirit. And I sure as Hades wouldn’t give permission to tailor my stories in the framework of such glorified pandering. OK, when an author creates a universe, there are levels of control over the story, from canon to fanfic… but all this fits into the copyright law landscape presently.
Orwellian bugaboos or not, we still have a little power to fight dystopian influences on our lives. If this prospect will become reality, it will call for a major revolution in copyright law. And everyone should be on that barricade – from authors and jurists to mommies who want their 50 shades 100% grey without any B.S. palette changes by Amazon.
And If you’re under 18 and reading an Awakeners novel at night under your blanket, you will most definitely prefer the artwork in line with the original underpants policy of the book.
A few words from Ace:
Strong words from a powerful writer. I think the message is something all creative people care about too–how much control should others have over you and your work, particularly when it’s ALREADY out there in the public eye? It’s scary to think about just how much THEY know about you once you’re in their grid. Definitely food for thought, and something artists everywhere need to be aware of.
If you enjoyed the article, be sure to let Anastasia know, and /or find more of her and her work here:
Twitter: Follow her @FantasyVortex
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Putting myself out there…writing goals for Oct 2014 to Oct 2015!

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Ok, a bit of a heart to heart post today, from one writer to another. Yesterday, I wrote about the benefits of journaling and setting writing goals. Today, I’ll show you what I mean by that. Here are my writing goals for my upcoming writing year:

1. Find a GOOD agent.

2. Write a new novel.

3. Write a screenplay.

4. Write 6 new short stories.

5. Write 6 new poems.

6. Increase Twitter followers to 3000.

7. Win or place in a writing contest.

8. Place higher in a Writer’s Digest contest than ever before (better than 4th!).

9. Win or place in a PNWA category other than poetry.

10. Win or place in VWF contest.

11. Win or place in a contest I haven’t done that in before.

12. Blog regularly on www.fighttowrite.com

13. Submit work to 20+ agents.

14. Publish at least one poem, preferably in a journal you haven’t published in before.

15. Publish at least one short story, preferably in a journal you haven’t published in before.

16. Sign an agent or publisher contract for a new work.

17. Offer at least one writing workshop in the real world.

18. Get your personal web site going.

19. Attend more writer events.

20. Self-publish at least one writer guide (on how to succeed with contests?) and offer it for sale.

21. Add corkboard area to your writer’s den.

22. Win / earn enough from contests to buy a TREK DESK.

23. Attend a writer’s conference in addition to SIWC.

24. Make more personal connections with other writers.

25. Do better in 2014 / 2015 than you did in 2013 / 2014!

Try this:

The beauty of the list above is that there are so many possible ways to win. Imagine if I only meet half of these goals–will it have been a successful year? Without a doubt. In fact, for the current year (my writing years go from mid-October to mid-October), I wrote 25 goals (not all the same as above), and have already met 12 of them, with two and a half months left to go. Realistically, within that time frame, I have a good shot at reaching 5 more of them. Goals keep me focused on making progress…

And now it’s your turn. Think of a list of writing goals and start putting them down on paper in a place you’ll see them regularly. I don’t recommend using January as a time for writing goals; many people are accustomed to making New Year’s resolutions–and just as accustomed to breaking them.  Make your writing year different…and start checking those items off your list!

(Confession: I know already I’m going to reach goals 14 and 15–an award-winning poem and short story of mine are scheduled to be published in the Autumn issue of Pulp Literature.  Did you ever make a to-do list where you’d already completed the first item or two? Building that momentum is critical!)

Quotation Inspiration #008: Patience can help you grow as a writer!

Here’s another minimalist poster with a message I love (and need to keep in mind personally):

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It’s always tempting to compare yourself to others and to want the success they’ve had, and to want that RIGHT NOW. I’m guilty of it, too. But one of the best moves I ever made was to start JOURNALING five years ago. Five years ago, I said I was really going to “go for it” with my writing. I’d give myself 7 years; if nothing happened, maybe I’d pursue passions in other areas.

If I didn’t journal, it’d be easy to forget the little successes I’ve had along the way. Some of my writer goals always include production–write this many poems, this many short stories, and that many novels this year, for example. Reading great examples and learning the craft is just as important. I can see how the pieces I’ve written have gradually gotten better and better. Contests were a big step for me–getting my work OUT THERE. I’ve had the pleasure of winning a few too–PNWA poetry, Pulp Literature poetry (Magpie Award), SIWC poetry AND short story (Storyteller Award)–and placing in others, including several Writer’s Digest contests and the Grasmere Publishing Children’s Fiction Novel contest (in the top three…so far!). Other goals involve platform and networking, because, even though I’m a Leo who enjoys attention, I’m a natural writer introvert too (a constant battle with myself). Creating www.fighttowrite.com was definitely a part of that.

Thankfully, something HAS happened with my writing over the years, even if I don’t have a traditionally published book out on the market yet. Small steps. The writing is improving; I’m writing in genres I’ve never touched before (one of my students, Claudia Malinowski, is the person who got me started writing short stories!); and I’m seeing some success.

Without a doubt, part of that is because of another habit I’ve acquired: penning a PILE of writing goals at the beginning of every writing year (my writing years are from October to October…I know, kind of strange, but it works). I’ve written them in the front cover of every journal I begin, to keep them in front of me.

Tomorrow, on fighttowrite, I’ll do something I haven’t done before–make them public. I’ve come up with my writing goals for October 2014-October 2015, and I’ll post them so you can see the kinds of targets I set for myself (and it may help you get a new good habit too…).

Try this:

Start thinking about what some of your writer goals are. Think short-term, medium, and long-term. Don’t be afraid to dream the big dreams too, just make sure that you don’t ONLY think of those. Tomorrow, after I list my current goals for my upcoming writing year, it may give you more ideas, so make sure for the TRY THIS tomorrow, you have your favourite journal and favourite pen or pencil handy!

Name drop 2: MICHAEL SLADE!

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Just in case you even for a moment thought Lisa Unger would respond and Michael Slade wouldn’t, here’s a post from the Master of Horror himself:

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That’s what good books and good teachers do, right? Pass on the passion from one generation to the next! By the way, that talk of Slade’s I went to in 2005? “Fear of deformity (like scissors to your eyes)” was on the list! Just to give you something to think about . . . ba-dump, ba-dump. Ba-dump, ba-dump….!!!!!

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Lisa Unger prologue update

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Just thought I’d update you with a tweet I got from Lisa Unger herself, New York Times bestselling author of 12 novels in 26 languages, who already commented about a post I made about PROLOGUES just yesterday:

 

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Ok, so you’ve been warned by the lady herself (who’s a champ for responding so quickly considering her busy schedule!). Pay attention to those prologues!

 

 

 

Prologue Trick from Lisa Unger and Michael Slade and…

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To some editors and many readers that “P” word, “prologue,” is almost a swear word. Piles of readers skip over prologues to get to “the meat” of the story. Some editors HATE them.

But…what if your story needs one? Here’s a strategy used by Lisa Unger in Beautiful Lies:

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October 25th, 1972

There were times when she wished he were dead. Not that she’d never met him, or that he’d never been born, but that he’d get hit by a car or get himself killed in some other violent way like a bar fight, or his arm would get caught in a machine and he would bleed to death before anyone could save him.

She starts with a date instead of that “p” word, and pulls you right into the story. No need to label it “prologue”; it begins where it begins.

Michael Slade avoids chapter titles entirely in Headhunter,and instead chooses to go with a location, title, and date for each separate section.

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For example, here are how the first two “chapters” of his book begin:

THE NIGHTMARE

Medicine Lake, Alberta, 1897

The body hung upside down from the ceiling by nails driven through both feet. The head was missing, the neck severed to expose vein and muscle, artery and bone in a circle of raw flesh.

. . .

IS SOMEONE HUNTING HEADS?

Vancouver, British Columbia, 1982

Because his story jumps around a fair amount (even though it focuses on 1982), Slade uses this device to keep readers focused. In this way, it makes his prologue just another chapter of the book. It’s an opening guaranteed to be read (especially because of its opening line!).

Lesson learned? If you’re trying to avoid that “p” word, ignore it completely and move into your story with a specific date. It will ground your reader, and even a picky editor will have nothing to complain about. Problem solved!

Try this:

Choose a date below and write a prologue that’s not a prologue. Notice how the date may affect the type of tale you tell? Here you go…

July 27th, 1967

December 24th, 2015

March 15th, 4444

Now choose the first one you have any kind of thought about, and start writing!

SUMMER OF BLADES is one of three finalists in a novel contest!

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          OK, SUPER EXCITING NEWS! My novel, a YA Medieval Fantasy, Summer of Blades, is one of three finalists in a contest put on by Grasmere Publishing. The winner gets his or her novel published. In other words, I am literally two books away from fulfilling a dream–having a novel in print!

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          It gets better. The final judge is none other than ARTHUR SLADE. Yes, THAT ARTHUR SLADE–the one who has published more than 15 novels so far, including DUST, which won the Governor General’s award!

          ARTHUR SLADE IS GOING TO BE READING SUMMER OF BLADES!

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          What’s freaky is that there are a few bajillion coincidences there–we’re both from small town Saskatchewan; we both got our first degrees from the University of Saskatchewan; we both have July birthdays; he gave up a dental plan to become a published writer, and I have a dental plan I’m totally willing to give up to do that. See?

     I’m too hyped to think, so here’s the synopsis for Summer of Blades:

SUMMER OF BLADES is a 53000-word medieval fantasy that features Arietta, a girl who is fighting three “weaknesses”: she’s young, she’s female, and she’s poor. She dreams of a better life, for her and for her father. Since her mother’s death, he’s been working too hard, and if she could just do something to earn more money, life might be easier for the both of them.

That’s why she enters the tournament. Raised as a tomboy, she is better than good with a bow, a blade, a hand ax, and a horse. She enters and wins a two-day tournament that tests all “knightly” skills, and just as she approaches the platform to accept her prize—

A dagger comes shooting through the air directly at Prince Quinn’s throat!

She grabs the dagger from the air by the handle, and throws it back at the assassin, pinning him to a post by his own cloak. She has saved the Prince, and the Queen immediately names her the Prince’s official bodyguard, BEFORE taking off the helmet and discovering…SHE’S A GIRL!

This is how Arietta falls into life in the castle, but it’s not quite what she expected. The Brotherhood, a terror from within, is attempting to kill the royal family. Just as she begins to deal with that, the Gagordians, a terror from far away, will soon threaten their tiny village, and Arietta finds herself in the role of a reluctant hero: not necessarily wanting the job, but finding herself leading her people into battle.

There were people now who were willing to kill because of her. People who would die because of what she did or did not do. No matter what anyone said or thought, she knew now that being a good leader was not about being a puppeteer—moving and having others dance around for you. Those strings were connected at both ends.

Worse yet, with all the fighting going on around her, with death on every side, she didn’t like the person she was becoming…

A predator.

Welcome to the world of Edarians vs. Gagordians. This coming-of-age novel is a fast-paced piece of fiction aimed at youth aged sixteen and under (but with an appeal to older readers as well). It’s an exciting tale that shows the power of passion and persistence and will appeal to fans of Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and Ranger’s Apprentice. It’s a blend of Joan of Arc and Robin Hood with a twist—the strong, young female warrior is forced into having to fight and protect the rich in her kingdom (and a male Prince, Quinn, as well) even though she herself is poor. And when her mind is muddled by thoughts of a new love, it’s a dangerous time for her and for her people. Sword blades, oar blades and even blades of grass create the chaos that is…

SUMMER OF BLADES!

“FLY FISHING” writing technique with Susan Pieters!

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I’m no angler… and I’m not sure whether Susan Pieters knows how to fly fish or not—but she’s a gifted writer who uses fly fishing technique in at least one of the tales she tells. Let me show you how…

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     In fly fishing, the lure itself is light, made to appear to be a fly or some other invertebrate. The way the fly even reaches its target is not because of the weight of the lure; it’s because of the weight of the line. The line used is usually coated with plastic to help it carry the bait farther.

In “Glass Curtain,” one of Sue Pieters’ works originally published in the Surrey International Writers’ Conference anthology of winners in 2008, the narrator is pulled between two different environments, just as a fly is snapped between air and water during casting.

On the one hand, she’s a woman experiencing mid-life crisis, clearly not satisfied with the life she finds herself living. Her husband is very practical and straight-laced, but she dreams of more; she dreams of the life her neighbour has:

“The grass is not just greener, but brighter and happier in the neighbour’s yard. As I watch Sally putting out chairs, my husband stands closer to me. I tell him she’s turning fifty, and he grunts in surprise. From here, Sally looks much younger.”

Later, commenting on her own appearance, the narrator mentions her distaste for mirrors in department stores, saying “Up so close, they make me look fat.” Her husband replies, “Mirrors are mirrors….They can only distort if they’re bent.”

It’s not exactly the reply she was looking for. “You mean that’s really how I look?”

She doesn’t want to settle for frumpy housewife of three, so in order to reach for that other world, she reaches back to another time: “… as I slide all my hangers aside, I see a black dress that I used to wear before having kids…after I find a tighter bra and stand up straight, it’s not bad.”

All along, her husband is portrayed as the practical soul who wants her to cover up that black dress with a shawl because she might get a chill, isn’t sure about the kids seeing a PG movie, and is concerned his wife might drink too much or stay out too late while he’s at home babysitting the kids next door.

The man she dreams of is more adventurous, like the James Bond with striking blue eyes in Casino Royale, a movie she’s recently viewed. At Sally’s birthday party, she meets him, a “tall Englishman, who has taken off his sunglasses. After one look, I want to tell him that he should never wear sunglasses. His eyes are the bright blue of a summer sky, clear and cloudless.”

And just like that, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious stranger who lives in the “other world,” a world she wants to be a part of.

He has an English accent and is a world traveler; for the narrator, this trip next door for a birthday party is about as adventurous as it gets.

He knows how to cook, and having forgotten to bring food for the party, goes into the backyard, slashes away at some rhubarb and bakes a delicious Rhubarb crumble on the spot. She sneaks back to her house and grabs a gallon of vanilla ice cream out of the freezer, almost getting ambushed by her kids for it in the process.

The gift he has brought with him is a painting, one he may have done himself, but in the narrator’s home, “the print hanging above the couch is crooked, my son must have knocked it with his arms. There used to be a second picture hanging above the couch as well, but he broke the glass cover on it while doing a somersault.”

He is a gifted architect, with a heritage house.  Her own house “needs painting. And what would Thomas think of my own drywall problems, namely the white chalk-chunks still scattered on the carpet after my son launched a wooden sword down the stairs last month?”

All along, Pieters successfully tempts her narrator with this new man and the possibility of a new life (or some torrid affair perhaps), only to pluck her back to the reality of housework and kids and things that need to get done. She teases the reader, showing a sophisticated, cultured man who is clearly interested in the narrator, but a narrator who is hesitant to pursue him fully.

In the end, we see a woman who has enjoyed, for a short time, the attention given by someone living a life she dreams of. Her exposure to his world, even for the brief duration of the party, has changed her, and now, when she looks in the mirror, she sees something different:

“The woman before me has raindrops glistening in her dark hair, making it curl. Her eyes are attentive and curious. Her mouth has a lopsided quirk when she smiles. I know when she speaks that the most unlikely thoughts will spill out. Beneath her vest are generous and welcoming curves, asking to be held. I reach up and pull the sprig of clematis from her hair, and her smile turns wistful. She is beautiful. I have never seen her before. I am looking at myself through different eyes, through brilliant blue eyes.”

Jerked back and forth between the reality she lives daily and the life she seeks in her dream world, she finds herself settled on a blue stream, enjoying the moment. She is not a fisherwoman; she is not the prize waiting to be caught. Instead, she can drift along peacefully now, tugged neither by the expectations of her fisher family or into the waiting mouth of her “trout” Thomas.  She can just be herself, the lure, as alluring as she once felt—only made aware again of that beauty’s presence by the attentions of another.

All in all, Sue Pieters plays this back and forth bit of juxtaposition skillfully throughout the entire piece, fishing for her readers, tempting them to come closer… though when they’re hooked, ultimately, they’ll be smiling–because of the weight of the lines that Pieters writes!

Great openings from Best American Short Stories 2013 !

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I’m making my way through my copy of The Best American Short Stories 2013, and I wanted to share with you some of the best opening lines.

Remember, an opening line can get YOU going on your own writing. The trick is NOT to read the complete story until AFTER you’ve written your own story. And once you’ve written your story, chop off that opening line (or paragraph even) and see what you have. More often than not, the idea you come up with will be FAR different from the story the author told. Let’s get to those starters:

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From “Miss Lora,” by Junot Diaz:

Years later, you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother, would you have done it? 

From “The Third Dumpster,” by Gish Jen:

Goodwin Lee and his brother, Morehouse, had bought it at auction, for nothing.

From “Referential,” by Lorrie Moore:

For the third time in three years, they talked about what would be a suitable birthday present for her deranged son.

Try this:

Do I even have to say it? Choose your favourite line from the three above, start by writing it down, and KEEP GOING!

 

 

Update on “Big Red Schoolhouse” . . . Judges’ comments!

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Ok, so here are the lovely words the judges had to say about “Big Red Schoolhouse,” my poem that won the inaugural Magpie Poetry Award:

Magpie Award Winner

‘Big Red Schoolhouse’ by Ace Baker “The poem in 1st place, ‘Big Red Schoolhouse, keeps us up to our elbows in the muck of the moment and the situation with the calving.  I felt I was physically at the other end of the rope in my new jeans, and my uncle was a world away from where I was at and right beside me at the same time, handing me that rope to tie around the calf’s hocks to haul it out.  The poem is dynamic and dramatic in its details, as elegiac as it is realistic and beautifully sequenced through stanza and line.  I might even say choreographed, a choreographed chaos of feelings and action, dominated by a double dimension of obligation to the birthing and to the uncle.  Wonderful poem.”

We couldn’t agree more.  We were fortunate Ace was at the launch last night to receive his cheque for $500 and read his poem out loud.  We’re looking forward to publishing it and the runners-up, who will each receive a cheque for $50,  in the Autumn issue of Pulp Literature.  The contest was judged blind, so the judges had no idea when they selected Ace’s poem that it would end up published alongside his short story ‘Victory Girl’ in Issue 4.

My utmost thanks to George McWhirter, past Poet Laureate of BC, and Pulp Literature editors Mel Anastasiou, Jennifer Landels, and Susan Pieters  for their kind words.

“BIG RED SCHOOLHOUSE” wins MAGPIE POETRY AWARD!

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Ok, I am THRILLED to announce that my poem, “Big Red Schoolhouse,” was the winner of the inaugural Magpie Poetry Award by PULP LITERATURE, whose contest’s final judges were the amazing Daniel Cowper and past Poet Laureate of Vancouver, George McWhirter.

This poem is special to me because I wrote it because of Patrick and Red Lane. Back in university, I took a course from Patrick Lane before I ever knew who Patrick Lane was. Later, I decided to look up some of what he had written. The first poem of his that I read was “Because I Never Learned,” which includes a stark image that’s difficult to forget: a boy using the heel of his boot to crush  the skull of a kitten who’s been hit by a car. It’s a compassionate action, but it’s nasty to think about–beauty and ugliness at the same time. I was amazed that people could write poetry like that, and my poem, “Big Red Schoolhouse,” includes a moment at the end that is similarly paradoxical. I wrote it with Lane’s poem in mind.

After I moved to BC, I was wandering through a bookstore in Steveston, and I found a collection of Patrick’s brother, RED Lane’s poems published by a press that Patrick and others had set up in the sixties. I loved his work as well, and the photo of him used in that volume became the young man in my poem (I was actually MUCH younger when the event took place on my Uncle Sid’s farm). So there’s a bit of Patrick and a bit of Red (whom the title alludes to as well) and a bit of a younger me in that poem, and that is why I’m so excited that it won!

It should be out in issue 4 of Pulp Literature (along with a short story of mine, “Victory Girl” that won the 2012 SIWC Storyteller Award). Can’t wait to see them both in print…