Dogland, or How Have I Missed This Book For Thirteen Years?

I finished reading Dogland by Will Shetterly last weekend. It was published, according to the book, in 1997.

How the hell have I overlooked this amazing book for thirteen years?

Well, okay. Will Shetterly is not a name I routinely look for on the bookshelves ((At least, it didn’t used to be. That’s changed, now)). Long ago, I read Cats Have No Lord, and the stuff he’d written in the Borderlands series, but while it was okay, none of it really grabbed me, and I started ignoring his stuff.

I don’t remember where I heard about Dogland. I just remember seeing the book in the store, and thinking, “Oh, yeah. That’s supposed to be good.” So, I bought it. And then it sat on my shelf for several months before I got around to it.

What’s the book about? Well, it’s about a young boy – four years old, almost five, when the story starts – who, in 1959, moves with his family to rural Florida, where they start up a tourist attraction called Dogland. Because of his father’s colourblind approach to hiring and the way he treats people, the family runs into some problems with the less-enlightened folks in the area.

That’s the basics of the plot, but the book goes far, far deeper. It’s also about how we learn what is right, how we gain our values, how we build families, and how stories shape the world. Or at least, our perceptions of the world. Because the book is also about how our memories are less reliable than our imaginations, and when we think we’re engaging with the real world, we’re often just engaging with the stories we tell ourselves about the world.

I know, I know. It sounds like pretentious literary navel-gazing. It isn’t. It’s saved from that fate by a clear, simple, involving writing style and a good story that’s worth reading even without the interpretation I just made ((I can’t help it. Being an English major in university has damaged something in my brain. I have to think about stories in this fashion.)).

The first chapter has the main character, Chris Nix, telling stories about his family that were told to him, and he’s very clear there that he can’t vouch for the truth of them. That sets the stage for the rest of the book, which is Chris Nix telling stories about his family that he witnessed. The entire book is a series of anecdotes, vignettes almost, pulled from the life and viewpoint and understanding of a young boy who doesn’t really understand everything that’s going on.

Because there’s a lot going on that the reader understands but Chris doesn’t. Adult things, deep things, important things, things that change the way the world is. But Chris, being just a child, merely witnesses without really understanding, and gives equal weight to the fear he has of jumping into the water from the roof of a houseboat as he does to the fear he has when a Klan rally shows up at Dogland.

The fantasy in the book is very subtle, and revealed mainly if you pay attention to the names of the characters. But there are mythic patterns playing out, and an important battle between good and evil. It’s balanced by, and given the same treatment as the strain of a difficult family situation and the problem of bullies.

What I’m trying to say is that Shetterly presents a wonderful, faceted look into a solidly realized world. We can’t see the whole thing, but we see enough of it to know the shape, and it feels so true to childhood memory that it’s easy to accept as real. Reading it, I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

I’m currently reading Shetterly’s The Gospel of the Knife, which is also very good, but very different ((It’s written in second-person voice, for one thing. And I gotta applaud the courage of the writer who attempts that, as well as the skill of the writer that pulls it off. Shetterly does both, so standing ovation for him.)), even though it also deals with Chris Nix, now 14 years old.

Pick the books up if you like modern fantasy, or magical realism ((I don’t really know what the difference is. As far as I can tell, “magical realism” is a label writers and publishers use to avoid the genre ghetto, so they can be considered serious and literary.)). Me, I’m going to keep looking for new stuff from Will Shetterly. Hopefully more of the Chris Nix stories.

I really don’t want to miss another book like this for thirteen years.

I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night…

Not the labour leader and songwriter, though. A different kind of writer.

I’ve been on a Joe Hill binge, lately. It started with the comic collection Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, which I picked up because I liked the name and the art. It was a great story, very creepy and with a nice grounding touch of the mundane mixed in. This is, I think, of absolute importance with horror and modern fantasy: there needs to be enough of the mundane mixed in so that the horrific/fantastic elements stand out. Anyway, as I said, I really liked the comic and went looking for more information on the writer.

Turns out he’s got the next volume of the comic collection out: Locke & Key: Head Games. He’s also got a collection of short stories called 20th Century Ghosts and a novel called Heart Shaped Box.

So I bought and read them all.

Well, to be fair, I listened to the audio books for Ghosts and Box. But you get the idea.

I really, really like his stuff. He does amazingly good ghost stories, because he sticks with the idea of the uncanny and how it can affect us in so many ways, rather than just going right for the screamers.

He can do the screamers, too, as evidenced in Box. But he’s got more than that in his trick box.

I’m jumping all over the place. Here. Let me settle down and tell you a little about the stuff of his I’ve read.

  • Ghosts is one of the most varied, interesting, inspiring, and enjoyable collections of stories I’ve read. Not everything is a ghost story, and not every ghost story is scary. He can mix do charming innocence in a piece like Better Than Home without it getting cloying or naive. He can do cynical, self-aware horror in Best New Horror without you minding the fact that you know how it’s going to turn out. And he can pile on the weird and surreal in things like Pop Art and My Father’s Mask in a way that makes it seem like it fits in with reality. It’s a wonderful, heady mix of stories. I don’t like them all equally, but neither will you, and our tastes will vary.
  • Box is one of the best ghost stories that I’ve every read. Ever. There is a wonderful layering of history and backstory, strong characters (both living and dead), twisted secrets and motivations, some great scares and some more even greater creep-outs. It also has a strongly-hopeful tone to it, as you come to realize that its regrets even more than ghosts that are haunting the main character, and his quest to be free of the haunting is really a story of a man trying to find redemption and peace with his past. Does he make it? I can’t really tell you. Sometimes, as I think of the ending, I say yes, and sometimes I say no. And I love that.
  • Locke is a solid horror/modern fantasy comic. I loved the first collection, but felt the second collection didn’t have as strong a story to it. I mean, reading Head Games, it’s obvious that the book is setting the stage for what happens next: it’s a transitional episode, moving the major playing pieces into place. A few of the mysteries raised in Welcome to Lovecraft get… well, not really resolved, but you start to see the shape of them. So, because the story is not as self-contained in Head Games, it lacks the impact. I’m guessing, based on the track record, that this will take care of itself as the series progresses. I’m looking forward to the next collection.

One thing I noticed is that Hill deals with a lot of fathers in his writing. Many of them have powerful impacts on their children, for good or ill – they are powerful figures, even if they’re not always benevolent, whether through presence or absence. Their existence twists and shapes the stories they’re in. It crops up enough that I started to think of it as a theme, but that may be metathinking on my part.

See, we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Joe Hill’s father is Stephen King. And I have to wonder what sort of impact having Stephen King for a father must have on a writer’s work. So, you see, I may be imposing my own speculation on the writing, creating a theme that exists only in my head.

But you know what, Joe? I don’t care who your daddy is. I like his stuff a lot, but that’s not why I read yours. Why I will continue to read your stuff.

I read it because it’s good.

I Don’t Trust the New Guy.

Or, The Problem of Betrayal in Small Character Sets

Before I get going, I’m gonna put up a big spoiler warning:


I’m going to be revealing plot twists in the following:

  • NCIS: Los Angeles series premiere
  • Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
  • The Inspector Morse mysteries
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Bones season 3
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman

So, we good? Good.

I was watching the series premiere of NCIS: Los Angeles the other night*. In it, the team are trying to track down a kidnapped girl connected to a South American drug cartel. Her mother gets a phone call from the absent father, and calls him Luis. And instantly I decide that he’s in on the kidnapping, because of the hispanic name. And sure enough, he’s the bad guy.

This brought into focus something I’ve faced before in creating adventures, writing stories, reading, watching movies and TV… basically, any time I interact with a story. Stories contain, of necessity, a limited subset of real-world things. Specifically, the only characters in a well-constructed story are those that contribute in some meaningful way to the story. This means that, especially in mysteries, we pay extra attention to the introduction of each character, looking for how they fit into the story*. And it becomes hard to hide things in the background, the way things get overlooked in the real world. There just isn’t enough background noise to conceal things.

This can make it hard to sneak in a betrayal, especially if the audience (or the players) are expecting one. This generalizes to any mysterious identity, including the identity of a murderer, or the missing heir, or the superhero’s secret identity, or what-have-you. I’m going to focus on idea of betrayal in this little screed, because that’s what brought it to mind.

Case in point is Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher. Going in, we know that there’s a traitor on the White Council. So when there’s a new character introduced – a fussy little bureaucrat that happens to hate Harry Dresden – he really stands out as the potential traitor. And you know what? He is the traitor*.

What made him obvious? He was a new character who didn’t seem to have a purpose that wasn’t served by one of the established characters. It made him stand out as a sacrificial lamb, so to speak. He hated Harry – but so did Morgan. He was a staunch traditionalist – but so is the Merlin and Ancient Mai and several others. He showed up, they made a big deal out of how much of the White Council’s information got processed through him, he made himself annoying, and basically made the reader want him to be the bad guy.

Yeah, this is all meta-thinking, based on what we know about how stories work, but it’s thinking that happens, whether in a reader, an audience, or a gamer. We know how stories function, and we can’t turn that knowledge off. You can come down on players for meta-game thinking, but it won’t stop them from doing it – just from acting on it.

And when you’re building a story – whether it’s a novel, a script, or an adventure – you’ve got to be aware that your audience is very sophisticated and knowledgeable in the area of story. Everyone is.

Some authors play with this. In Dan Simmons’s Hyperion, for example, he tells you up front that one of the group is a traitor, and then has each group member tell his or her story in a Chaucerian style. As you go through the book, you examine each story minutely for the clues that might reveal the teller as the traitor. The traitor turns out to be the last person to speak, but in the meantime, you come to the conclusion that each of the previous characters could be the traitor. Until the blatant reveal at the end, there is good cause to suspect each of them.

So, this actually creates two sorts of things that happen when traitors are introduced. One is fixing the identity of the traitor, and the other is seeding clues as to that identity.

By fixing the identity, I mean deciding who’s going to be the traitor. In an ongoing series (TV, novels, games, etc.), it can be tough to surprise with a betrayal. Either you have to introduce a new character (as in Turn Coat), or you have to make an established character the traitor. Introducing a new character draws attention to the addition, and makes the character an immediate suspect. Had the traitor in Turn Coat been introduced a couple of novels previously, he would have been much less obvious. On the other hand, making an established character a traitor can be jarring and unbelievable, such as the third-season finale of the Bones TV series, when they revealed that Zack Addy was the Gormogon serial killer – well, his apprentice, anyway.

The problems with fixing the identity of a traitor can be alleviated or aggravated by the seeding of clues as to who the traitor is. If you don’t give enough clues, then the reveal can strain credulity, as in Bones. If you give too many, then the reveal is not a surprise, such as in Turn Coat. Finding the right balance of clues to make the reveal both believable and surprising is tough, especially from the omniscient seat of the author. What’s the right amount of clues? Tough to say.

My assumption through this posthas been that you want the audience to have a chance of figuring out who the traitor is, but you don’t want to make it too easy. Like a good crossword puzzle clue, you want the solution to be obvious once understood but still surprising when you first discover it. You’ve got to know your audience, and you’ve got to know what they are (and aren’t) going to pick up on. You take a look at the clues you could seed, and try to use the bare minimum. In a game, you have the advantage of watching player reactions, so you can adjust things as you go to provide more or less information. In other forms of story, you take your best guess, and adjust when revising.

The most beautiful example of this that I’ve ever encountered personally is in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. You know all along that Wednesday’s up to something, and that Shadow is in over his head, but I didn’t twig to the actual shape of the con until about a paragraph before the reveal, simply because I never said the name Low-Key Lyesmith out loud. As soon as I realized that Loki was in the mix, I realized that Wednesday was playing both sides for his own ends. And then about a sentence and a half later, Gaiman spells it out. For that sentence and a half, though, I felt very clever. Then I knew that I’d been very successfully played. It was brilliant.

There is an alternative, though. If you’ve ever seen a Columbo episode, you’ve seen it. Technically, it’s called dramatic irony, when the audience knows more about what’s going on than the characters, but really its a sort of reverse reveal. Each Columbo episode started by showing you the (usually incredibly arcane) “perfect murder” perpetrated by the killer. The rest of the episode is a cat-and-mouse mental duel between the killer and the detective to find the flaw that will unravel the crime.

This approach shifts emphasis away from the surprise reveal to the interplay of character and investigation, and can be tough to pull off without becoming very formulaic. Still, it’s worthwhile considering as a device.

So, to sum up: adding betrayal (or another secret and reveal) to a story can be tough, because of the limited range of choices for identity, the difficulty of choosing the correct person for the villain, and the balancing act of seeding appropriate clues. Understanding the difficulties and keeping them in mind can help avoid the common pitfalls.

*Yeah, I like NCIS. You wanna make something out of it? Back

*Back in before-time, my friends and I used to watch the Inspector Morse mysteries. It got so that, whenever a new character was introduced, we’d race to see who could be the first to shout, “He/She did it!”* Back

*Unless, of course, the woman was a love interest for Morse. Then she was either a victim or the murderer. Back

*Well, he’s a traitor. I don’t know about the traitor. The world of the Dresdenverse is a twisty, deceiving place, and Jim Butcher is not above pulling a bait-and-switch on us. In fact, I hope he does. Back

STORY – Home Again

I made it home. Spent a lot of time sitting around the airport, thinking about writing. Spent a fair bit of time on the plane waiting on the tarmac, thinking about writing. Took a break during the flight to watch a couple of episodes of Carnivale on my iPod. Now, I’m home, doing my laundry, and thinking about writing.

Specifically, I’m thinking about my new novel.

I want to start fresh, after the seminar, and use the method and structure to see where they take me. To that end, I’m making notes about characters, scenes, the types of conflict, things like that. What I’m hoping to discover in the mess of ideas is what the story is about. Once I have that, I’ll have an idea about the antagonist (or forces of antagonism), and I’ll start to see the structure of the thing.

So, did I get what I wanted out of the seminar? Honestly, I dunno yet. I haven’t looked at the list, yet. Let’s do that now.

A better understanding of the underlying structures of story as put forth in the book. I primarily write short stories, with a single completed novel and half of another novel, and I find that thinking about things as Acts and Scenes and Beats doesn’t come naturally to me.

Check. His examples helped this sink home very nicely, and walking through Casablanca was very enlightening.

A better example of the way the elements discussed in the book work together to form the whole. There are tons of examples of each individual idea in the book, but they’re drawn from a number of different sources to illustrate individual points. The seminar features a stop-and-start viewing of Casablanca to analyze the movie scene-by-scene in light of the principles presented in class.

Check. Again, the viewing of Casablanca helped a lot, though there was a lot of time spent on the cinematic aspects of the movie. Fair enough; the seminar is primarily targeted at screenwriters, and I can see how useful and valuable that discussion would be. Some of it was interesting to me, some of it wasn’t. But the exercise gave some real insight into how everything fits together.

Discussion about the various points. Books are great, but a live tutorial session illuminates so many more elements of the material.

Check. Very much check. Several times during the session, I found myself thinking, “Oh, so that’s what the book meant!” Sometimes you just need to hear the right words the right way to really get it.

A renewed passion for writing. I’ve been a little bogged down, mentally, and really want this to recharge my batteries and get me excited about writing again.

Check, and check again. I really want to stay home from work tomorrow to get a full day’s work done on the new novel, but that ain’t gonna happen. Thank god for laptops and lunch hours.

Inspiration about the central conflict in a novel I’m working on. I’ve got a good idea for setting, some good characters, some interesting scenes, but no actual PLOT yet.

Kinda check. See, I don’t have the central conflict, yet, but I do have more confidence that it will emerge as I build and structure the novel using the method from the seminar.

See a little of Vancouver. I’ve got most of a day to walk around, and the hotel is near the waterfront, and Chinatown, and Gastown. I’ve never been to Vancouver, so I’ll be a bit of a tourist.

Check. I also got see one of the cruise ships pull into dock from the window of the seminar venue – it’s an experience I have to remember if I ever have to describe something huge and ponderous and building-sized moving. It was awe-inspiring.

Have dinner with my cousin. He lives there, and we’re going to a place called Sanafir. Once you get past the annoying (but pretty) intro, it looks like interesting food.

Check. Good food, good company.

So, that’s my trip. One last thing to tell you folks – on the taxi ride back to the Vancouver airport, I saw a sign that said, “Left turns restricted ahead. Use Hemlock.” I thought that was a little harsh*.

*I was tired and my head was full of literary thought. I make no apologies.

STORY – Day Three

So, it’s over.

Today was just as long as the previous two, but parts of it dragged more for me. This was simply because more of today’s topics dealt with things more specific to screenwriting than novel writing. Not that the ideas presented were not useful; they just really emphasized the screen over the page. Still, ideas about dramatizing exposition and events, minimizing and pacing dialogue, and developing subtext have real application in all storytelling.

But it was less directly applicable to me, and so seemed to go on longer.

Also, the food court at the venue was closed today, meaning the lunch break was a little more frantic, which meant it wasn’t as much of a break.

I sound like I’m complaining, don’t I? That’s not my intent. But three long days of lectures – even lectures on a subject you love by a fantastic speaker – are very tiring.

The viewing of Casablanca was everything I had hoped it to be. It illuminated a number of key concepts, and showed how the pieces fit together. 

It also highlighted what a deep, rich movie it is.

Tomorrow, I’m going to take a look at my list of what I wanted out of the seminar and see if I got everything – tonight, I’m still a little to close to it. And tired.

I do want to say three last things.

First, what Robert McKee teaches is not difficult on a conceptual level. Learning the form and structure and techniques he teaches isn’t hard. But it opens up a whole depth and breadth of possibility and complexity – once the basics are down, you’ve got a lifetime ahead of you of working to master the form.

Second, Mr. McKee’s seminar (and book) will not fix your writing. It won’t fix anything. But it gives you a set of tools that you can use to fix your writing. It’s not magic. It’s a recipe for hard work to get better. Work that you have to do yourself.

And by you, I mean me.

Third, I shook Mr. McKee’s hand and thanked him for the seminar, and told him how much I enjoyed it. And he said to me, “Do something great with it.”

So, y’know, no pressure.

STORY – Day Two

Another very full day, and my head is buzzing.

The group seems to be relaxing a little more in the seminars; there’s more response to Mr. McKee’s jokes and questions, a little more conversation among attendees at the breaks, and just generally a looser feeling.

The subject matter is tightening up, though, getting into more specifics of the craft of building stories. Three-act structure, building mystery and suspense and dramatic irony, the principle of antagonism, handling exposition, stuff like that.

I don’t know how the man does it. My energy is flagging by the end of the day, and all I’m doing is sitting, listening, and taking notes*. He’s lecturing the entire time I’m sitting in the seats, and he’s still lively and energetic and interesting at the end of the day. A testimony to his stamina and the passion he has for the subject**.

The passion’s contagious. I’ve got a number of new ideas for my writing projects from the seminar, and I’m so eager to use them that I spent last evening, and plan to spend this evening, putting some of what I’ve learned into practice.

A friend of mine once told me that he tries to pick the moment in a seminar or session when he’s got his money’s worth. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes late, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. It’s a way to evaluate, on the fly, how much value the seminar has for you.

My moment came today, during the afternoon, when it finally clicked for me why the novel and a half that I’ve written so far weren’t working the way I wanted them to. I know how to fix it, too. I’m just not sure it’s worth the time to go back to that when I have a couple new ideas that I could start fresh with, and avoid those mistakes.

Anyway, one day to go, and half of that is going to be watching Casablanca, which I’m really looking forward to. Seeing all the pieces laid out on the workbench is no substitute for seeing how it all fits together in a working movie.



*Not as many notes as I had feared; I’ve got the book, and that covers a bunch of stuff. And a lot of the lecture is paraphrasing basic principles to make sure the point sinks home. And there are a lot of examples to illuminate the principles, and stories to keep everyone’s interest up. 


**I’ve used the word “passion” a coupe of times talking about Robert Mckee. Maybe it sounds melodramatic, but that’s one of is defining characteristics, at least during the seminar.

STORY – Day One

Wow.  That’s a long day.

Got to the venue just after 7:30 and registered. That was pretty early, so I got to hang out in the lobby for a while before finding a seat in the auditorium. And the session went a little long, so I was over there for about 13 hours in all. 

A long day.

And how was it?

I liked it. 

Robert McKee is intensely passionate about story as an art form. His love of it comes out in his presentation, as he swings from topic to topic and anecdote to anecdote. He is, by turns, gleeful and wrathful, frank and teasing. He draws you in and invites you to share his love of story.

He can be a real martinet about anything that disrupts the flow of his lectures – tardiness, cell phones, talking. His explanation is simple and harsh: he doesn’t want some attendees wasting the time of the other attendees. A laudable goal, in my opinion.

There’s a lot of material, and some real depth to the subject, and he’s got it all at his fingertips. He’s obviously been delivering this seminar long enough that he’s got most of it memorized, and needs to check his notes mainly to pull back to the main point when he follows a tangent or anecdote a little far afield. In short, he displays a complete mastery of the subject matter.

And what did we cover today? The basics. Things like discussing definitions so that we were all working from a shared vocabulary, and talking about what story is, what it isn’t, why there isn’t enough good story around, how story relates to the setting and characters and meaning and audience, and how to write from inside your characters.

Interspersed with this was a wide range of social and philosophical and political commentary, along with stories from the world of screenwriting. These are interesting and entertaining. In fact, his presentation reminds me of video I’ve seen of Richard Bandler, one of the developers of NLP, giving a seminar – he wove in stories and jokes and digressions until he had the right comfort level instilled in the audience, then moved on to the subject matter at hand.

And there’s a fair bit of profanity woven into the presentation. He explains that away by saying that there’s a part of him who is still a twelve-year-old boy that enjoys talking dirty in public.

One day in, and I’ve already got a number of ideas about how to move ahead on some of my writing projects. And the desire to do so. I’m going to try and make a start tonight, but I don’t know that I’ll get much done.

As I said, it was a long day.

Back in the saddle tomorrow.

STORY – Travel Day

Got up early today to catch the plane to Vancouver.  I realized yesterday that it had been a long, long time – better than ten years – since I had flown. This was brought home to me when people at work started asking me if I had stocked up on little bottles for my shampoo, etc.

Y’know, it’s a good thing that it was people at work telling me these things. If it had been my friends, they would have taken terrible advantage of my ignorance.

That said, the flight was pretty routine. Security took a little time to get through, and they swabbed my computer to test for “bad chemicals,” and the airline didn’t have any free food or drinks, but I got a window seat and I spent the flight listening to Night and Day by Robert B. Parker on my iPod. It was good.

And wow, was it something of a challenge to find my way out of the Vancouver airport. But I did. And then got a ride in a cab to the hotel, along with an earful about how much the Olympics are costing the taxpayers, and how expensive it is to operate a cab.

At the hotel, my room wasn’t ready. I hadn’t expected it to be, as it was only 10:00 a.m. and check-in time was 3:00 p.m. I really just wanted to drop my suitcase off and take a walk around the downtown. Still, they were very apologetic, and I wound up (when I returned from the walk), upgraded to an executive room, free of charge. Nice folks here at the Ramada. They also loaded me up with a tourist map and pointed out some things I should see.

And then on to my walk. I first scouted the venue for the seminar, to make sure I know where I’m going tomorrow. It’s about a three-minute walk from the door of the hotel, and looks pretty nice, though the actual auditorium was closed and I couldn’t check it out. I like being that close to it.

So, then on to a walk. I saw Chinatown, and the Steam Clock in Gastown, and the waterfront, and lots of the downtown area of the city. On the way in from the airport, I had been surprised at how much greenery there was everywhere. Less of that in the downtown area, but still some nice little parks*. The streets seem more claustrophobic than Winnipeg, mainly because there’s more tall buildings and hills.

Oy, the hills. Living in a city that’s flat as a table doesn’t prepare you for walking the streets of Vancouver. And it’s pretty hot here, today – it was about 28 C around noon. That made me pretty happy when I got back to the hotel and found out about the upgrade, which includes free water in the room.

So, now I’ve been resting up before meeting my cousin for dinner. Apparently the restaurant is about seven blocks away, which is a pretty nice walk. I’m meeting him at 6:30, so I’m gonna jump in the shower now and head out at 6:00.

And then back to the hotel to bed. Another early morning tomorrow.


Just got back from Sanafir. Three things to know:

  1. My brain keeps wanting to call it Sarafin, blending seraphim and paraffin into some sort of wax angel in my head.
  2. Tough to find. I walked past it three times, and finally had to ask someone. No real outside signage.
  3. The food and the service are both amazingly good. Heartily recommended.


*I almost got high on the pot smoke coming off Victory Park as I walked by.

STORY – Expectations and Objectives

I leave tomorrow morning at 8:00 local time for Vancouver, and the STORY seminar. I’m really looking forward to it.

Something I like to do with seminars of this nature is to set out what I want out of the event; that way, I know if I’m getting what I want, and I can determine if it was worth the time, effort, and expense.

So, what do I want out of this trip?

  • A better understanding of the underlying structures of story as put forth in the book. I primarily write short stories, with a single completed novel and half of another novel, and I find that thinking about things as Acts and Scenes and Beats doesn’t come naturally to me.
  • A better example of the way the elements discussed in the book work together to form the whole. There are tons of examples of each individual idea in the book, but they’re drawn from a number of different sources to illustrate individual points. The seminar features a stop-and-start viewing of Casablanca to analyze the movie scene-by-scene in light of the principles presented in class.
  • Discussion about the various points. Books are great, but a live tutorial session illuminates so many more elements of the material.
  • A renewed passion for writing. I’ve been a little bogged down, mentally, and really want this to recharge my batteries and get me excited about writing again.
  • Inspiration about the central conflict in a novel I’m working on. I’ve got a good idea for setting, some good characters, some interesting scenes, but no actual PLOT yet.
  • See a little of Vancouver. I’ve got most of a day to walk around, and the hotel is near the waterfront, and Chinatown, and Gastown. I’ve never been to Vancouver, so I’ll be a bit of a tourist.
  • Have dinner with my cousin. He lives there, and we’re going to a place called Sanafir. Once you get past the annoying (but pretty) intro, it looks like interesting food.

And for those who care about these things, I settled on two spiral-bound notebooks and a set of gel pens.

Robert McKee – STORY

Have you heard about this guy?

I had heard mention of him, then I picked up his book, STORY.

Actually, I went looking everywhere for the book, because I had heard it was good. I couldn’t find it locally. I was getting ready to break down and order it online, but then, in a box that I hadn’t looked at in some time, I found that I had actually bought it some months before and never started reading it.

I started reading the book and was amazed. Not that everything he said in it was a revelation, but he managed to bring to consciousness a number of things that I was doing instinctively, which gave me a greater understanding of the writing process. He provided a structure and vocabulary in a number of areas where I lacked it, allowing me to think in a clearer, more methodical way about how I built stories.

And how to make stories work.

He gives a number of seminars each year, all over the world. Inspired by my friend, Michael, who made one of his dreams come true last summer by walking the pilgrimage to Santiago, I decided that I was going to attend one. This year, he’s only doing one in Canada, and that’s in Vancouver. It starts this coming Friday, and I’m going to be there.

I’m really very excited.

Each of the three days of the session is apparently almost twelve hours long, but I’m going to try and update this blog each day for anyone interested in what’s going on.

Tonight, I have to go find a good notebook (or notebooks; the woman organizing the seminar said she filled three yellow legal pads when she took the seminar) and some nice pens.

I like shopping for stationery.