That adorable octopus

In case you hadn’t heard the news, a new species of octopus was discovered this summer — and it’s really cute.

 

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Just look at that squishy little guy! The webbing between its tentacles gives it a bouncy swimming pattern, and the flappy little fins on its head are for steering. One of the scientists studying this new species has proposed calling it Opisthoteuthis adorabilis because of its adorable appearance. (At the time of posting, I couldn’t find word on whether the name is official.)

Mostly, I just thought my blog readers should see this octopus. Octopuses are neat! But adorabilis is also an interesting contrast to otherworldly-looking oceanic creatures, like nudibranchs and anglerfish. The sheer variety of life on our Earth should never be forgotten.


Tinder Stricken giveaway to support Nepal earthquake relief

800px-Nepal_stub

 

Some hours ago, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal near the capital city of Kathmandu. Information is still incoming but a state of emergency has been declared and the death toll at this time is over 2 500 people.

If you’ve talked to me in the past year, you’ve probably heard about my in-progress novel Tinder Stricken, a fantasy story set in a Nepal-inspired mountain society. And I haven’t mentioned this before, but seismic activity plays a major role in Tinder Stricken’s story. An earthquake in Chapter 2 cause Esha to lose a close friend and alters the course of her life. Further into the plot, earthquakes turn out to be a significant threat to Esha’s new non-human allies. A particularly large earthquake near the end of the story does a lot of damage to humans and non-humans alike, and Tselaya Mountain’s society is changed forever.

My story is fiction with phoenixes and magic in it. But still, I’ve been drawing influence from Nepal’s real people and history, and I regret that my book will release at a time when Nepali people are trying to rebuild their lives. Tinder Stricken not an attempt to cash in on current events and I hope it won’t be perceived that way. Removing the earthquakes from Tinder Stricken would mean completely remaking Esha’s story — and despite unfortunate timing, I don’t think censoring fiction is an appropriate way to deal with difficult issues. If anything, fiction helps us rationalize the real world.

As a writer trying to encourage broader minds, I should try to do the real Nepal some good in this difficult time. I think the best thing I can do with my upcoming book is to help the fundraising efforts for the Nepal earthquake relief efforts.

Therefore, if you donate money to a Nepal relief fund before May 22nd, I’ll give you a free ebook copy of Tinder Stricken on that May 22nd release day.
There’s no minimum donation for this event. Any amount helps.
You can choose Global Giving, the Red Cross, or any other charity organization you’d like. Just be careful that it’s a legitimate charity and not some scammer, okay?
To claim your free Tinder Stricken copy, email me at heidicvlach@yahoo.ca and attach a picture of your donation receipt (with personal information blanked out, if you’d prefer). I’ll note your email address and get in touch with you once Tinder Stricken is ready.

Please share this post and tell your friends. I hope I can help send some pocket money to a good cause — and give you folks a thought-provoking story to read, too.


The power of one descriptive word

Yesterday, there was a minor fire in my apartment building. I don’t know the full story but apparently, something electrical shorted out in a utility closet. The fire was limited to that closet, and the superintendent put out with fire extinguishers before the fire trucks arrived. No one was hurt — unless the superintendent’s slightly singed hair counts. There’s a few thousand dollars’ worth of smoke damage but everyone who lives in the building is safe and still has a home.

That’s not what you’d assume based on the local news. Early reports described this event as a “blaze”. When I imagine a “blaze”, I imagine something like this:

burninghouse

That’s the conclusion many other people drew, as well. The sight of fire trucks and water hoses (which were brought into the building as a cautionary measure) only supported the idea that there was an ongoing, serious fire. Residents of the building were inundated with phone calls from worried relatives asking if they were alright. Some were even told, “Your house is on fire!” by people who had only heard a rumour of a terrifying, life-destroying “blaze”. Today, I even heard people saying that they heard the building “burned down”.

Crazy, huh? A poor choice of words can send a community into an absolute panic. For an older example, consider the story of Martian canals. An Italian astronomer described canali on the surface of Mars, an idea translated into English as “canals”. Canals are often man-made, so this choice of word fueled the idea that there are Martian aliens with full-fledged civilizations. People ended up getting very panicky indeed about the idea of Martians invading Earth.

Of course, when people aren’t sure what’s truth and what’s fiction, one word can easily seem to signal danger. Our animals instincts tell us to take potential threats seriously. Words still have power in fiction, but it’s a more subdued and enjoyable power. In a clearly fictional framework, a word like “blaze” can give the reader a jolt of imagery and emotion in the same way a roller coaster gives us a safe, controlled thrill.

Focused on final Render edits as I am, it was just a bit bizarre for a word choice to jar my daily life so powerfully. While I’m thinking carefully about terminology like Aligare magic, people out there are picking the words broadcast over national news networks and sometimes those people choose poorly. What a double-edged blade language is.


Ebook piracy and why I’m okay with it

I’m a content-producing novelist trying to make a living. Despite this, I don’t think piracy is evil.

No, really. One time, a convention attendee joked about pirating my book to his friends (then quickly insisted he wouldn’t do that) — and I laughed and gave him permission. Seriously, I wouldn’t mind if that attendee copied the Remedy ebook and emailed it to 500 of his friends and acquaintances. I might make thousands of dollars if every one of those 500 people purchased Remedy, but I don’t think the issue is as simple as that.

There are some existing cautionary tales, like Napster and the anime industry.  Historically, people sold art, music and stories in a scarcity-based model. The only way to get these things was to purchase them through legitimate venues, which were sometimes hard to find and often priced steeply. When the Internet came along, people began downloading the things they were interested in but couldn’t buy legitimately. There was suddenly a way to circumvent the gatekeepers. Is that wrong? Well, the free market is clearly expressing its desires, and I think the onus is on businesses to keep up with demand. No one gets to order the world to stop changing. But is it just a matter of stealing things you haven’t paid for?

thief

Physical ownership is clear and easy to enforce. A car is a three-dimensional object and we treat it as such. This object is valuable because it performs an action, and it’s made of materials with a calculable worth. You could sell a car for its parts or its metal content, but that car has greater value when it still works as a car. We know how fast a make of car can drive, and we can predict how many years it’ll be useful for. It might have social connotations (ie. driving a car as a mark of adulthood), but that’s not the primary reason a car is a valuable object. Forcibly taking that car away from its owner — so you can drive it or sell it instead of them — is therefore wrong.

Information, though? It’s trickier to control, and I don’t even think it should be held hostage for money. Information is a basic right. Everyone gets to learn skills, hear stories and experience art. That’s because we are enriched by ideas in ways we can’t always fathom. You can charge for your time and effort in distributing information — that’s reasonable. You can ask people to support you so they’ll get more information in the future. But I don’t think written stories are comparable to an object, be it a luxury car or a stick of gum. Stories have a word count but they’re not truly measurable. You can’t look at a novel and know that you’ll get so many grams or ounces of joy from it.

Why is a paperback book valuable? We know that paper, glue and ink are physical resources, and that someone needed to print and transport the book. Those books originally sold for a price the publisher needed to keep their New York rent paid up. If you resell old pulp paperbacks you found moldering away in your basement, you might get a few cents each for them if you’re lucky. What about the purpose of the book, though — the story? There’s no telling how valuable that story will be to any given person. I’ve read plenty of classics and bestsellers that I thought were boring and terrible, which meant they had very little value for me. Those old basement books might contain a story you end up loving. And people might read Remedy and think it’s a waste of their time: that’s a risk I take as a writer. I hope people will find value in the characters and ideas I present, but I can’t force them and nor should I.

If people read a pirated copy of Remedy, they’re trying out what I do. Taking my writing for a test drive, to get back to the car example. Determining if my work is worth their money. And I’m okay with that — because as an independant author, awareness of my work is more valuable than a payment of pocket change. I do charge dollars and cents for my books, but that’s basically just an assurance that I’ve worked hard to make a product I believe is worth money. It’s a request for token support of what I do. I understand Internet culture and I’m not stupid enough to put myself in a position where piracy will ruin me financially.

CanadianCoins

Poor self-publisher. Deprived of, um, some coffee and maybe a donut or something.

Old perspectives tell us that everything must be policed, enforced, and sold for money. That’s a system that takes failure hard and doesn’t acknowledge its own flaws — especially when trying to sell something as mercurial as ideas. It also makes people overly obsessed with money and ownership, in such distasteful examples as jacking up ebook prices when public libraries are looking to buy. I’d rather operate on a system where people enjoy my work and support me when they think I deserve their token support. Maybe they pay me in the form of reading my work for free, then telling their friends to check me out. That’s cool. I think we can all live with that.


When books become movies

With The Hobbit and Life Of Pi recently out in theatres, I’ve been thinking about how books translate into movies. It’s especially relevant for Life of Pi, which has been called “unfilmable”.

Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster

I definitely agree that the novel Life of Pi can’t be transcribed into a movie with 100% accuracy. Beyond that hooky “kid in a lifeboat with a tiger” premise, it’s a very reflective story that talks about Pi’s spirituality and emotional reactions — which are difficult to put into a movie. You pretty much need a narrative voice-over or some expositional conversations between characters, both of which can come off clumsy. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s rare that visuals can capture a character’s most articulate thoughts. So I do want to see the Life of Pi movie, but I’m not foolish enough to expect the exact book experience.

I think that’s the main thing to remember about movie versions of books: they’re adaptations. The movie is “based on” the book, not intended as a perfect equivalent. Books and movies have very different skill sets, so it’s not likely that a story will translate exactly from one medium to the other. Action-filled stories might be better in movie form. Books with good concepts but flawed writing might benefit from being filmed. But the beautiful prose of a literary story? Not so much. And some stories lose run time when their POV character can’t monologue internally, so new material needs to be added for the movie — Coraline is an example of this.

In the movie, this kid suddenly existed and was a big deal.

In the movie, this kid suddenly existed and was a big deal.

I’ve thought about whether my stories would make good movies. Just for the sake of wondering about it, not because I have a movie deal in the works or anything. The Aligare world would certainly make for some gorgeous visuals, with all the interesting-looking races, natural vistas and colourful magic. (I wouldn’t want the place to look too clean and perfect, though. There’d be some realistic dirt.)

As for the stories? Remedy would do well because it relies a lot on conversations between characters; the scenes that got cut would probably be people’s angsty internal monologues, which don’t have to be there word-for-word. Ravel would need some adaptation, but since Llarez is a storyteller by trade, I’m sure he could voice-over his own chapter to good effect. And the way Render is panning out … hmm. Rue spends a lot of scenes thinking the opposite of what people around her are saying. That book would be tricky to adapt faithfully. I guess Rue could exposit to her dog.

"What's that, Feor? Timmy was pushed down the well by ravenous wolves?"

“What’s that, Feor? Timmy was pushed down the well by ravenous wolves?”

So I don’t think the potential to be a good film is something that should be taken for granted, or even expected. It’s just one more quality that distinguishes a given book from every other story out there.


My stance on fanfiction

I was inspired today by Cecelia Tan’s statement on fanfiction. I’ve added a fanfiction statement to my own About page.

Fanfiction has been in the news lately, what with the hot trend of modifying fanfiction into original novels. Fifty Shades of Grey used to be a Twilight fanfic with a non-vampire version of Edward. Now, it’s got publishers looking for more fanfiction to tweak and put covers on.

And now more than ever, people are discussing fanfiction and its ethics. Some feel that fanfic writers are shameless plagiarists who steal characters, defile works of art, and kick the metaphorical puppies of Real Authors’ hard work. They say that writers should just write an original novel of their own, because that’s the only way to write respectably. Boy, do I struggle to bite my tongue when I see stuff like that.

When someone fiddles with a boxed cake mix, adding extra ingredients just to see how the cake turns out, do we sneer that they should go to culinary school and become a real pastry chef? How about when a housewife has the audacity to bake a birthday cake using a celebrity chef’s cake recipe? She’s a cake recipe thief, isn’t she? Of course we don’t judge it that way. There are many reasons to use a cake mix or a recipe formula that someone else made. Those people aren’t trying to steal or debase anything. And although fiction is different from food, I think it’s just as ridiculous to jealously guard a fictional world and forbid fanworks of it.

Saying that I have a “stance” on fanfiction feels weird. I started writing fanfiction when I was 13 years old. It was Pokemon fanfiction, showing serious or silly scenes that might have happened in between the animated series episodes. And I had discovered the Internet subculture surrounding fanfiction — it felt like a secret club full of cool, creative people. We wrote just because we loved Pokemon’s characters and ideas, and we wanted to explore that world. I found other fandoms, and I worked at writing better, more skillful stories for them. Having a “stance” on that? Huh. The club has been found out.

There is such a thing as plagiarising fiction. I’ve heard stories of unscrupulous people taking the exact text of a novel, changing the author credit, and putting it up for sale as though they actually wrote the piece. That’s wrong. It takes credit for a specific quantity of work the plagiarist never did. Whereas a fanfiction author doesn’t claim to own the recognizable characters or settings. I doubt the average person is confused into thinking that the teenage author of My Awesome Adventures With Harry Potter is actually the rights holder of the Harry Potter novel series. It’s the same legal basis that allows a published novel to mention a character drinking a can of Coke, because no reasonable person will take that to mean that the author is an official spokesperson of The Coca-Cola Company.

Fanfic writers add “what if?”s to the ones we already think when we take in a book, game or TV show. They’re spinning ideas in different directions and posting the results for free. Just sticking their work up for the general public’s enjoyment. They’re trying to expand the experience of the source material, and trying to grow its influence. Fanfic writers are usually the ones so passionate about a book/game/show/whatever, they tell everyone they meet about it. Why should their efforts be treated as a travesty?

Personally, despite all the work and craft I put into my original works, I’m not claiming they’re perfect masterpieces to be put on pedestals and never touched. Stories are meant to engage the mind. All of human history is based on our existing surroundings, and the ideas of other humans. Heck, I adapted some ideas of elemental magic from the Pokemon games and TV show, the same ones I wrote fanfic about. I’ve strived to make the Aligare series distinctly mine, but if I didn’t want anyone else to get their grubby fingerprints on it, I wouldn’t have shared it. And if anyone finds enjoyment in the Aligare world, and wants to write a story set there? I say go ahead. Play in my sandbox as much as you’d like. Hang out with the characters for yourself. (Just don’t claim you invented the three peoplekinds and then charge money for your work.)

This is a pretty complicated issue, I have to admit. Not many clear-cut lines. But the way I see it, intent counts for a lot. Since most fanfic writers aren’t trying to knock off an existing franchise and make a quick buck, I’ll keep vouching for the entire subculture. I’ve been there, it was fun, it helped me develop my skills and I really doubt I hurt anyone. Quite simply, I wouldn’t be the original writer I am without it.