Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Separation.

I've seen A Separation before, but only on a TV. This week I was fortunate enough to see it on a big screen at the cinema. And I'm really glad I did.

It's an Iranian film, and an excellent one at that. I loved it the first time I saw it. I loved it even more this time. I saw a lot of things I hadn't noticed last time, and I was able to recognise elements that foreshadowed later parts of the narrative. There was so much depth and tension to the characters and their relationships. And there was so much that was told without being said. Good direction, pacing, setting, dialogue, script and writing. A great cast with fine performances. And Leila Hatami is absolutely stunning.

Once again I wondered about certain events in the film and the cultural significance they might hold for Iranian viewers.  But for now I'll just have to accept that I won't catch all the nuances the film-maker created.

I learned a lot about storytelling from this movie. I also realised that an excellent story doesn't have to follow a standard formula. But then like much in the arts, I suppose you need to know the rules before you can break them.

And already I have ideas to try and transfer into my own writing.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I'm Bugged?

Last week I almost posted a list of things that bug me. Not only in my day-to day life, but in writing and the internet, and well, stuff in general.

All kinds of things, from the ubiquitous usage of the word 'awesome' until it has been relegated to the blandness of the overused and meaningless 'nice', to...  well, you can guess that this middle-aged guy has a fairly extensive list of things that bug him. (including being called 'middle-aged'.)

But as I was typing the post last week, I deleted it, and made the decision not to focus on that negative stuff too much.  Yeah, some of it irks me, but a lot of it is just a matter of taste. I also realised some of the stuff that bugs me (and they are fairly small niggles) appears on pages published by friends of mine. As such it could be seen as a criticism of their approach, which it is not. I'm sure those friends look at me and get bugged by stuff I write, say or do.

And so for those that think I'm permanently bugged, you're probably right. But as for being unhappy?  No. I simply don't smile publicly because when I do I look like a crazed serial-killer that makes students run in terror.  And if you don't believe me, ask me to smile for you sometime.

(Except for FaceBook. I will mention them here. They really, really  bug me.  I'm still blocked (after 9 weeks) for some unknown reason and they won't respond to any of my very polite enquiries or emails.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I know rejections aren't personal, but for some reason that's how they can feel sometimes. I must say my immunity has grown - they generally don't worry me too much anymore. I get over them in a couple of minutes and send the pieces out to other markets pretty quickly.

It has been quite a while since I've had one that hurt.  And that one was more about the circumstances surrounding the rejection than the rejection itself.

The goal is to aim high while not getting your hopes up. Never count on the sale. But I must admit I feel a little surprised at a rejection I received a few days ago. I wrote a story aimed at a particular market, figured I'd nailed all the criteria and guidelines, and received a form rejection within eight hours.

That rejection doesn't hurt either, but I am a little curious as to the reasons why my story didn't advance to the next round of selections.  Of course it's bad form to ask, and there's no obligation for the editor to tell me. And ultimately it probably wouldn't help me anyway.

But sometimes just a few extra words would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Own Collection?

I've recently had a number of people suggest that it's time I compile an anthology of my own stories and publish them on Amazon, or Smashwords or whatever.

Anyone who knows me will no doubt be aware that I am quite averse to self-publishing my stories anytime soon. I recently had the opportunity to read a couple of self-published stories and was generally underwhelmed by them. As I've stated before, I recognise that traditional publishing values are shifting rapidly and the future world of e-books is wide open, but there's still too much white-noise out there at the moment. How we end up filtering this and finding the gems is yet to be determined.

Amazon reviews are of limited value. Some of the stories I read had been given a number of 4 and 5 stars, but were actually poorly written. (To be fair, I have also found one or two that were pretty good.) I believe that it's wise to reach a certain standard before inflicting your work on others. For me, that standard is a couple of professional sales and regular appearances in semi-pro markets. I'm working at building a reputation, and editors and respected publishers are the benchmarks in reaching that goal.

If others will invest time, effort and money in regularly publishing my stories, then perhaps it will be time to put together a collection. But in the meantime, I'll let the editors judge my work. After all, people keep telling me writers are rarely the best judges of their own writing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I've seen a number of writers who push the Heinlein rule of never re-writing stories. As I've said before, I'm not a huge fan of Heinlein's writing rules. I believe they worked for Heinlein at a time in his life when he was required to churn out short stories in order to make some money, but recently these rules have been lifted to some kind of mystical status among writers, chanted like a sacred mantra that will guarantee money, fame and success for those who follow.

I have a couple of pretty good stories that I wrote a year or more ago but had no takers. These are stories which I quite like, but with the development of my writing skills and better understanding of story construction I can now see the flaws in them.

A spare hour here, a spare hour there, a quick re-write and out they go into the publishing world.

I've recently sold two stories that went through this process, and I'm thrilled to soon be able to see them in print. And that's much better than languishing hidden in a metaphorical bottom drawer.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Two Way Street?

There's no denying the value in networking and making contacts.

As a high school teacher and career advisor, I often advise my students to ask friends, family members and acquaintances for help when trying to find part-time jobs. But recently someone pointed out that too many people 'collect' contacts. They collect names and business cards and are ready to utilise (exploit?) these people when needed.

Networking is a matter of building relationships, and like any relationship you need to work at it, you need to give as well as take, and you need to value and honour it.

I've recently had some great things happen, both directly and indirectly through contacts, but in each of these situations the opportunity was completely unexpected. I firmly believe they resulted because I'd worked at maintaining the relationship.

Give as much as you hope to receive.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I feel like I'm on a bit of a roll at Chateau Cameron these past few weeks.

As a writer, my confidence occasionally drops, times when I wallow in self-doubt about my work. The last few weeks have been a bit like that.  But I'm back. I'm back into my writing regime with a vengeance, the words have been pouring out easily, and a number of good things have been happening, both in regards to sales and other peripheral writing activities.

And I'm writing this with my usual optimistic outlook. Some might say it's a wildly unwarranted optimism. I think I prefer the term 'apocryphal.'

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Writing Advice.

After my last post about teaching writing skills to high school students, a couple of people asked me why I never give tips and advice here since this is basically a writing blog. You know, characterisation, setting, dialogue, all that stuff.

I'm pretty sure I've written about this before, but I'll explain once again.

I don't feel qualified to advise others how to write since I see myself as a new writer. How can I teach other writers when I'm not yet selling to pro-level markets? There are plenty of other sites with experienced writers offering advice. This blog is not really a site for me to teach, but a place for me to share my writing experiences, stuff that happens in my life, and pretty much anything else that pops into my head.

Recently I read of a writers' workshop being conducted by someone who was working on their first novel. First novel? You mean this person is no more experienced than the potential attendees? And that is not an unusual case. I wouldn't sign up for that workshop. When I learn, I want to learn from someone who knows what they are talking about and have a proven track record. This week I've deliberately checked out a few blogs featuring posts with advice and lessons on writing. And then I made a point of reading work by some of these little-known but well-meaning folk. Unfortunately, the stories I read were pretty poor. Which, I believe, pretty much proves my point.

Over on the right side of this page there is actually a link to a page of my 'writing rules', for want of a better term. These came about because someone asked me what I thought of Heinlein's rules, and would I clarify by devising my own. I prefer to think of them less as 'rules and guides', and more like 'hints and suggestions that really might only apply to me'. I believe you should basically steal whatever suits you from others and formulate your own rules.

My only other advice to a writer would be to take a workshop, sign up for a course, get critiqued - but as I always advise parents who ask me about finding a tutor for their child, check the credentials of the person teaching.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


This week I've been teaching my boys' English class how to structure and draft/edit a short story. Nothing new in that as I do it very year with this class. But what I noticed this week was the advice I was giving had developed from the last few years.

And I recognised how much I've learned in the past year.

I'm a better writer, with a better understanding of the mechanics of short fiction.

I've still got a ways to go, but it feels great to see personal progress.  And oh yeah, I've sold another story since Sunday. That's a great feeling too.