Sunday, December 30, 2012

Behind Every Story is a Kernel of Truth

The desire to own a part of history is probably as old as man himself. Reality television is replete with shows—Canadian/American Pickers, Pawn Stars, American Restoration and the like—that attest to this. The Victorians were obsessed with all things Egyptian. It wasn’t uncommon for the wealthy to purchase and display mummies in their own homes or host mummy unwrapping parties (History), the craze for which continues and was documented in the short-lived television series Treasure Trader. Anything ancient, it seems, is worth collecting, even fossilized dinosaur feces, which was recently sold at auction on Auction Kings (Discovery).

The problem with procuring artifacts such as these (though technically, the dinosaur poop cannot be called an artifact as it was not manufactured or modified by people—unless you call the turning of the fossil into a commodity a modification) is that it is regulated. There are laws in place regarding who may legally excavate these materials. And make no mistake about it, picking an artifact up from the ground knowing it is from a potential archaeological (or paleontological) site is considered excavation, even if it the item lay on the surface when you found it.

I can remember in the early days of the Internet finding a bottle collector’s website. Though he posted some amazing diagnostic tools, his site read, primarily, like a how-to for bottle hunters. As a practicing archaeologist, I engaged the man in a digital debate that I had no expectation of winning. Though I tried to educate him on the evil of his way, the man relied on his pot hunting to make a living. One has to look no further than SpikeTV’s American Digger to see how to do this for a living.

I was an archaeologist for about a decade of my life, and though I can say that in those ten years I never worked on a site that had been vandalized, I was sickened at the stories I heard from my colleagues. Most of my work was on public archaeological sites. This meant the sites were open to the public with the intent to educate them on the importance of the archaeological record. Unfortunately, most people didn’t get the lesson we were trying to teach. In PHASE SHIFT, the main character, archaeologist and university professor Molly McBride laments,

On archaeological sites someone always comes around and asks if you’ve found any gold yet. It’s inevitable. Tell me something, I’ve always been dying to say, when you move house how much gold do you leave behind? Instead I smile, and try to educate them on the fact that archaeology is not about the money. What’s more valuable is the information artifacts give us about what went on while the site was occupied all those years ago, regardless of their material of manufacture.
An observation that’s altogether too true. When I worked on The Trinity Bellwoods/Gore Vale Site in downtown Toronto, almost once a day someone would come by and ask if I’d found anything valuable yet. My own grandfather used to tease me about this each and every time he saw me, something which exasperated me to no end. In case you’re wondering, I never did find any gold and any of the coins I found were too old and too damaged to have been worth much of anything.

The nugget for this blog was mined from an article published on the LiveScience website about a fossil dealer who was prosecuted for smuggling dinosaur remains. The article reminded me of the stories I’d heard regarding plundered Ontario archaeological sites and how powerless archaeologists felt to do anything about it but to hire round-the-clock security guards on an already stretched budget (something Molly does to protect the TTC site in the as yet unpublished THE NEXT COMING RACE). Prosecuting looters is a difficult task as it is tough to prove in court as it often happens under the cover of night and without witness. In 1985 the July/August issue of ArchNotes carried an article by William A. Fox documenting the first case of the successful prosecution of looters to a site, but that case involved witnesses and police involvement. Had the looting been carried out by a stranger rather than a neighbour of the property owner, the case might have ended differently.

When I read the LiveScience article, I thought of the first chapter of THE NEXT COMING RACE, the book to follow the recently published PHASE SHIFT. In it, protagonist Dr. Molly McBride enlists local archaeologists to participate in cyber-stalking to determine when local bands of pot-hunters will loot abandoned sites in order to conduct raids to scare them off in an attempt to protect the archaeological record. As this is the first chapter in the novel, it sets into motion the main plot and the threads of two sub-plots that (I promise) eventually come together and make sense in the long run. The main plot supposes an archaeological site is found during the excavation for expansion of Toronto’s subway system. The sub-plots are the raids on the looters and Palmer’s involvement in a case of forensics with the police department. Please click on the link to read, and enjoy.

If you like Molly and Palmer, you can download PHASE SHIFT, my first published novel featuring these characters from my web site,, for the price of a Facebook post or tweet. Molly and Palmer are also featured in two novellas available at or entitled THE MUMMY WORE COMBAT BOOTS (largely about Palmer and DC Michael Crestwood), and THROWAWAY CHILD (featuring Molly, Palmer and Michael). Happy reading.

Note for Once Upon A Time fans: I cast my characters when I write in order to help me imagine the scene as well as to keep my character descriptions consistent throughout a work. As you read this chapter from THE NEXT COMING RACE, try to imagine OUAT’s Robert Carlyle in the role of Dr. Palmer Richardson and (not an OUAT alumni, but he played Lois Lane’s father on Smallville and has been a favourite Canadian actor of mine since the first V series) Michael Ironside in the role of DC Michael Crestwood.

Works Cited
Discovery. Auction Kings: Dino Poo. 2012. . 30 December 2012. (Video)

Fox, William A. The Freelton/Misner Site Looting and Prosecution. ArchNotes. July/August 1985. . 30 December 2012. (Newsletter)

History. Mummy Unwrapping Parties. 1996-2012. . 30 December 2012. (Video)

Parry, Wynne. Dealer Pleads Guilty to Smuggling in Largest International Dino Case Ever. LiveScience. 29 December 2012. . 30 December 2012. (eZine)

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Fan is an Enthusiastic Devotee...

When I was younger I was, admittedly, a fan girl. I can remember having more than 200 pictures of Gregory Harrison posted on my bedroom walls when I was twelve. As a teenager, it was Simon LeBon of Duran Duran. I’ve seen them in concert a total of four times and own every album they’ve ever recorded. Ditto The Human League. But those were the days before the advent of The Internet, when the only fans you connected with were your friends or the people in the audience. Though we argued over whether Simon was hotter than Roger or Nick, there was no debating our love for the music.

I’m also a Star Trek fan. I collect memorabilia, everything from action figures to decorative plates. I’ve watched every television episode and movie multiple times and connected with actors and other “Trekkers” at conventions. We disagree over which Trek is best, which captain is most commanding and whether Romulans or Klingons have the ability to kick the most Federation butt, but the atmosphere at these gatherings is congenial.

My first foray into online fandom occured nearly ten years ago now I joined Nick Mancuso’s Yahoo group, which ultimately led to my meeting the actor, an experience which I will never forget. While I was active in the group, I was surprised at the vehemence many of the fans brought to it. Though we knew the actor tuned in from time to time, some of the members felt no compunctions posting unfavourable criticisms of his work, critiquing his choice of scripts and his acting ability in a voice that could be described as anything but constructive. Other members used the group as a forum to spew racist remarks at which some of the fans (including myself) took umbrage to the point of bowing out of the group. At times I was surprised Mr. Mancuso didn’t do the same.

The idea for this blog post came after a similar experience regarding fans of ABC’s Once Upon a Time in which people who are so passionate about the show they are willing to post artwork, fan fiction, critiques and predictions about it online for the whole world to see, only for some to be shot down for their admiration in the most horrific way.

In planning for this blog, I returned to the dictionary definition of “fan”, which is: “an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity”. pinpoints the origin of the word to 1885-1890 as an “Americanism; short for fanatic”. Synonyms include “supporter, enthusiast [and] addict”. Another definition it gives is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal” (emphasis added).

What strikes me as most interesting about this definition is the synonym “addict” and the fact that a fan typically has an “uncritical” zeal. Many people who blog about OUaT are anything but uncritical, both of the show and of their fellow “fans”. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and as an opinion is made with insufficient grounds to produce complete certainty (, an opinion can never be wrong. An opinion can be formulated based on ignorance or misinterpretation of fact, but it can never be wrong because, by definition, it is based on uncertain grounds. What this means is that if I thing Belle and Hook would make a better ship than Belle and Gold, that’s my opinion. You can disagree, but I am not wrong because this is my personal view. (I don’t by the way. I so love seeing Gold thrown off kilter as he tries to figure out how to win and keep Belle’s favour.)

As a mature adult, I may think that someone is off his rocker for even suggesting Belle be shipped with anyone other than Gold, but I must voice my opinion in a way that expounds my personal view without personally attacking anyone whose opinion differs from mine. This all goes back to my previous post which discussed online personas. I can make a name for myself as a diplomat who is willing to engage in an adult discussion of fact without devolving into schoolyard name calling, or I can make a name for myself as a foul-mouthed, narrow-minded dictator who is unwilling to allow for any opinion other than the one I’ve formed for myself. As I told the student who used Twitter as a sounding board which included a lot of unkind epithets directed at my teaching ability, there are ways to express your frustration without resorting to swearing and personal attacks.

I love the online debate that ensues as a result of the twists and turns Kitsis and his staff throw at OUaT’s fan base, but I could do without the swearing, name-calling and personal attacks. And while I’m sure those who see themselves in this blog will no doubt take umbrage in its posting and wind up throwing a few of those epithets my way, I am, like so many of you out there, sticking my neck out to post this nevertheless.

I leave you with the following two quotes, which I think sum this post up nicely:

Can we all get along?” (Rodney King, I believe)
If you can’t say something nice, shh, say nothing.” (Thumper)

Graphic from

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Anonymity and the Net

There is an inherent sense of anonymity built in to all modes of social media. This can be a good thing if your aim is to create an online persona in the event you wish to publish under a pseudonym, tweet as a character you have created in your writing, or post under your maiden name to avoid online detection of private status updates by your teenaged students. In most cases, however, the anonymity afforded by many online sites becomes a mask behind which those who disparage others hide. Perhaps the most frequent use of social media to this end is in cyberbullying. When I was a youth, bullying took place face to face, we always knew the identification of our tormentors, and there was a serious threat to our physical well-being in addition to our emotional well-being. Teachers felt free to ignore our reports, and telling us to ignore the bully and s/he would go away was classified as "doing something" about the problem.

Welcome to the new millennium where online bullying runs rampant, partially due to the anonymity factor, but also because it is easy for cruel jests to get sucked into the black hole that is cyberspace where they are lost to all but a select few who know their way around and who have precious time on their hands to uncover those small lumps of coal within the diamond mine that social media can be. Unfortunately, there is more publicity about Amanda Todd stories than positive ones about young people utilizing social media to exact social change. One example of this might be to use these sites to report incidences of cyberbullying rather than LOLing, retweeting or +1ing them. And while zero tolerance for bullying policies now extend beyond the confines of the schoolyard and into physical and online communities, it takes a strong-willed, sensitive principal to follow cyberbreadcrumbs and get to the bottom of reported cases of cyberbullying with as much zeal and sense of responsibility as they do for offline bullying.

Surprisingly, adults are not immune to the effects of online bullying. Teachers have been suffering through it every day of late, as people of all ages and from all walks of life lend their cybervoices to teacherbash with increased frequency. Web sites like RateMyTeacher give students and parents of said students from elementary through post-secondary a forum to lie about their teachers, blaming them as the root cause of all their problems--real or imagined--anonymity guaranteed. Sounds like a sweet deal, until you consider that poor teachers are not given the opportunity to confront their cowardly accusers. Isn't the right to confront one's accusers a basic tenet of some constitution or other?

The problem is, teachers deal with immaturity every day. They battle with children in adult sized bodies who refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions. If they fail, the teacher doesn't like them, or she's a hard marker; it has nothing to do with the fact that they arrive late, talk or tune out during lessons, and leave everything until the last minute when there is no time left to produce any sort of passable work. In their anger at getting into trouble, parents having been notified, or the realization that the month of July will be spent in credit recovery, social media becomes a handy outlet to besmirch the professionalism of the teacher. It is an opportunity to rally friends and family around you in cyberspace for a huge digital "there, there", an opportunity that teachers, in their professional maturity, are not afforded.

Though I don't advocate censorship of the net, I do advocate parental control of children using the net. Parents should make it a condition of their children owning a Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., account that their parents are a part of their circle of friends, followers, and the like. This might make the children--and let's face it, teenagers are children--think twice before they post. They might not mind if their friends see the posts, they might not believe their teachers are intelligent enough to find their posts, but if they knew their parents (or worse, grandparents) were reading their posts, it's just possible that it might make a difference.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

419 - Critique

419 by Will Ferguson is this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner, so I thought I would read it to see the calibre of writing worthy of winning the Giller Prize. I wasn’t disappointed.

419 refers to Nigerian email scams. We’ve all received those emails requesting monetary assistance with the promise of a windfall in return. 419 explores the depths of what might happen when one responds to the emails and gets caught up in the web of deceit, fraud, and blackmail perpetrated by the scam baiters. In 419, a man commits suicide after losing his life savings, including the house. His daughter decides to avenge her father’s death and winds up being scammed herself.

The novel follows four storylines: Laura, the daughter of the man who has committed suicide; Winston, the perpetrator of the crime; Amina, a young, pregnant Nigerian girl; and Nnamdi, the young boy who falls for Amina, assumes responsibility for her child, and winds up being killed when he, too, is swept up in the business of 419. Laura and her family’s story is interesting, as is Winston’s and his involvement and cavalier attitude toward the 419 frauds he perpetrates. To him, people like Laura’s dad are rich, stupid Americans, ripe for the picking by anyone with the smarts to outwit them. Nnamdi’s story becomes interesting, too, but only after he joins Ironsi Egobia’s team of thugs and is tasked with getting rid of Laura after she becomes a thorn in his side. But the stories of Laura, Winston and Nnamdi’s demise are parenthesis to a confused middle story which sees the introduction of Amina and Nnamdi with no indication of how they fit into the grand scheme of the story.

I read about half of the novel in one sitting, unable to put down the discovery of Laura’s father’s demise, the family’s reaction, and the police detective who flirts with Laura. I continued reading as I learned the ins and outs of the 419 scams. The reader is gradually introduced to both Amina and Nnamdi as their chapters alternate with Laura’s and Winston’s which are all but lost as Amina and Nnamdi take the forefront. I found it difficult to keep reading after fifty or so pages after that and almost put the novel down because I could not see how the new characters fit in with the old. Trusting that Ferguson wouldn’t leave his readers hanging, I pressed on, and I wasn’t disappointed. Once the stories met up, the book morphed back into a page-turner and the end was worth the wait.

As with many books I’ve read, Ferguson is rewarded with The Giller Prize for doing something others have slapped my wrist for doing—introducing characters with no immediate connection to the story with which the novel was begun. The fact that Ferguson has enjoyed such acclaim with this structure renews my hope that there is nothing wrong with the stories I’ve been writing, and that, with persistence, I may find a publishing house yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quest! A quest! My kingdom for a quest!

The November 25th episode of Once Upon A Time was exciting for many reasons, the least of which was not in watching Robert Carlyle bring yet another facet to the diamond in the rough that is Rumplegold. I was fascinated as he tried to be demure on his date with Belle at Granny’s Place in spite of the dirty looks and evil eyes Storybrookers shot his way. Thoroughly enjoying was the way he continued to protest his power as being greater than both Regina’s and Cora’s though he no longer had the bluster to back it up. But that’s not the subject of this blog. This blog is about The Quest Archetype and the skilful way the writers weave it into the plot of the story.

Just as a tragic hero has a set of parameters that, once satisfied, a character may be classified as such, so, too does a quest. The Quest Archetype (as defined by Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer and lecturer (Wiki)) may be defined as:

begin[ning] in the hero's ordinary world, when he or she receives a call to adventure from a herald. Many heroes initially refuse the call, until a mentor reassures them that they are capable. After this meeting with the mentor, they must enter the world of the quest. They meet allies and enemies along the way and are tested frequently. As they near the source of their quest, they usually face one final ordeal. Upon their success, they take the object of their quest, and make their way home. The way home is not always easy, but eventually they return to their ordinary world with their prize (PBS).

The OUAT quest begins in our world, an ordinary world that normally doesn’t have any magic. Emma Swan is the heroine of the story who is drawn to Storybrooke by her son who assures her she is the key to breaking the curse under which they all live. Emma resists, refusing to believe she is their saviour but eventually is convinced by Snow White/Mary Maragaret, who plays the role of Emma’s birth mother and mentor, who reassures her she is capable. She comes to believe this when she saves Henry from Regina’s sleeping potion and slaughters Maleficent in her dragon form to retrieve the potion that will break the curse. The true quest begins when both Snow and Emma wind up back in Fairytaleland—the world of the quest--and they are tasked with finding a way to get back home.

The secret to getting back to Storybrooke lies in an old compass and the ashes from the tree/wardrobe that originally transported Baby Emma to Storybrooke. Snow and Emma meet allies—Mulan and Aurora—and enemies—Cora and Hook—along the way and are tested frequently. One such test occurs when Hook takes Aurora’s heart and Cora uses it to convince the heroes that Hook wants to help them in their quest and that he may even have a little crush on Emma. Another is when Aurora is taken by Cora and Mulan takes the compass to get her back. Still another happens in the previous episode when Emma has to take the compass from the Giant residing at the top of the beanstalk. It is anyone’s guess what the final ordeal will be or when it will occur, but if the writers remain true to form, the heroes will emerge from the ordeal successful and find their way home to the ordinary world.

The only question remaining (and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out) is if Cora and Hook will follow.

Works Cited

PBS. In Search of Myths & Heroes. 28 Nov 2012.

Wiki. Joseph Cambell. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2012. 28 Nov 2012.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

YA Novels

You’d think as a teacher of high school English in a school that requires students to read a young adult (YA) novel and in which I have to listen to presentations and read analysis of said novels, that I’d know quite a bit about YA novels. In reality, I know very little.

Is it folly, then, to take on a YA novel as my Nanowrimo challenge this month? Perhaps. But I’m going full speed ahead with it anyway.

I don’t remember reading many YA novels growing up, besides Judy Blume novels and Nancy Drew mysteries. I remember reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea in grade six (no teen issues to be found in that one). In junior high I read the then scandalous Forever and Wifey before a friend’s mother turned me on to Stephen King in high school. I also remember reading quite a few soap-opera-type novels, cast-offs of my mother’s reading, mostly about Jewish immigrants finding their place in the New World, but not many teen novels.

In university I read Bette Greene’s The Summer of My German Soldier, and a number of classics (Winnie The Pooh, Peter Pan, Anne of Green Gables, The Sword in the Stone, Wind in the Willows) in university. I’ve taught Crabbe (William Bell), A Night To Remember (Walter Lord), Dreamspeaker (Cam Hubert), and Monster (Walter Dean Myers). On my own I’ve read Shelley Hrdlitschka’s Sister Wife, Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, Virals by Kathy Reichs, and Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Prachett. My intention here is to neither brag nor complain about the YA novels I’ve read. It is to establish that I am, by no means, an expert in the field.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that YA novels are those which are published for and market to young adults (i.e., teenagers). The main characters in the novels are young adults. Issues explored are of interest to young adults. Forever is about a young woman losing her virginity. Pooh, Peter and Anne are all coming of age novels. Crabbe is about a runaway. Ditto Dreamspeaker. The perennial Go Ask Alice (of which I have a still unread copy procured in my own teenage years) is about drug abuse, Monster: crime and punishment—all things you’d expect a YA novel to be about. But wait. Based on what my students report, it is much more than that. The novels my students read are tales of suicide, rape, cancer stricken youth and parents, sexual disorientation and/or ambiguity, terrorism, sexual abuse, self-abuse as in cutting, and murder, quite weighty topics for someone that can’t comprehend the difference between karma and divine retribution, I think.

Which brings me to THE REVENANT, the YA novel I’m chipping away at this month. Repeating the mantra “hurt your characters” (1), I am doing my best to put my characters through the ropes. Every night I sit down and type away, watching the word count mount to my goal of 1,600 plus words as I watch the story take shape. My characters have to battle with the fact that they’re empaths, seers and the undead. The main character, Zulu the Revenant, fanaticizes about superheroes as he goes about righting wrongs dreamt of by The Seer, his father figure (whom I must eventually kill). He gets stabbed, shot, and has to deal with the fact that the love of his life died a century ago and isn’t ever coming back—or is she? I haven’t yet decided. The empathy feels people’s emotions and sees auras so she is able to pick bad guys out in a crowd. So far the only hurt she experiences is that she may be falling in love with Zulu who she’s pretty sure is a vampire. She also has to deal with a meddling mother. It’s possible she may lose her mother and Malchus, the necromancer, may have to bring her back, though the way things are shaping up, it would only be temporary. Malchus is the long dead brother of The Seer (an old man cursed with longevity) in possession of a teenager’s body. He has raised two from the dead so far (one of which he killed himself), but they keep decomposing. I think the coroner may have to call his childhood friend, now the priest in the girl’s parish for religious advice as to how people who have been dead for some time are able to walk into city centres before they die one last time. Malchus struggles to get his powers back and under control and then he will have to find his brother because he must exact revenge on him for killing him.

At any rate, I have about 24 hours to percolate the next idea before I must force it to gel.

16,095 words and counting.

Viva Nanowrimo!

(1) Chartand, James. Fiction Writing: Hurt Your Characters. Men With Pens. 2006-2012. <>. 10 Nov 2012.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rumplestiltskin as Tragic Hero

The classic definition of a tragic hero according to Arisotle is that he must be of noble birth, has a tragic flaw which leads to his downfall, suffers a reversal of fortune, his actions bring about an increased sense of self-awareness and self-knowledge and the audience must feel pity and fear for the character(1). I submit that Rumplestiltskin, aka Mr. Gold on ABC’s Once Upon A Time (OUAT) is a tragic figure. While he is not of noble birth, he does have a tragic flaw (cowardess) which leads to his downfall, he suffers numerous reversals of fortune (the loss of his son, wife, and lover), his actions bring about an ongoing increased sense of self-awareness (recent confessions made by the character), and the audience feels both pity and fear for the character.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with OUAT, the show is about storybook characters coming from their familiar storybook existence in Fairytaleland (FTL) to our world and settling in Storybrooke, Maine (SB). Robert Carlyle plays Rumplestiltskin in FTL and Mr. Gold in SB with menacing relish. In the original tale, Rumplestiltskin is an impish character that is able to spin straw to gold. He agrees to teach the miller’s daughter the trick, provided she pay the sum of her first born to him. The miller’s daughter marries the king and has a child but does not want to give it up. Unable to resist a deal, Rumplestiltskin agrees to let her keep the child, provided the (now) queen can guess his name. After the second try, certain that he would receive the child, he was praising himself by the fire when someone heard and reported his name to the queen. Upon hearing his name come from the queen’s lips, Rumple got so angry he tore himself in two (2). In OUAT’s version, Rumple is the village coward. Shunned by others in his village because he ran when the ogres attacked rather than fight, his wife (Milha) has run off with Killian Jones (aka Captain Hook). Determined to become powerful and earn the trust of everyone including his son, he kills The Dark One and assumes his powers. Shunned by others because they fear him, he saves his son from fighting in The Ogre Wars only to lose him when he falls into a portal to another land and closes before he can follow. Alone, he finds his wife and kills her by literally taking and destroying her heart. Lonely, he makes a deal with a king to save his subjects from the ogres in exchange for his daughter, Belle, with whom he falls in love. Believing himself unworthy of being loved, he banishes Belle from his castle and Regina, The Evil Queen, convinces him she returned to her village despondent and ostracized for her involvement with him and she kills herself. After Regina enacts The Curse causing FTL characters to be transported to SB, he finds Belle when the curse is more changed than broken and reunites with her, but finds it hard to shake his beastly ways.

The Tragic Hero is of Noble Birth

Granted, Rumple himself is not of noble birth, but he does become elevated to the status of nobles when he becomes The Dark One. He has the same powers and wields them to his advantage as do the other royals in FTL. Take, for example, King George, who takes a peasant boy to replace his son when he dies only to threaten his mother and his twin brother’s life if he does not do the same when the replacement dies. Or Belle’s father, Sir Maurice, who is willing to trade his daughter for peace in his kingdom (granted Belle decides to go on her own, but in the long run, Maurice remains passive when his daughter leaved). Then there’s Regina who pushed her mother into a portal and has made her life’s mission to wreak havoc in Snow White’s life for a transgression occurring in her childhood. Like the other royals, Rumple is feared for his power and revered by those who come in contact with him by people who offer (as Macbeth, another royal and tragic hero laments) “mouth-honour”. As the owner and benefactor of SB, Rumple, aka Gold, maintains his power over the characters and seems to enjoy that they fear him. He is the proprietor of the local pawn shop which houses many of the character’s prized possessions with which they made deals with Rumple back in FTL.

The Tragic Hero has a Tragic Flaw Which Leads to His Downfall

As far as personality flaws go, Rumple has many. The story begins with him as a coward, then becoming addicted to and drunk with power as The Dark One. He clings to this power, valuing it even over the love he seeks. This is demonstrated when, after his magic seems threatened by Belle’s love for him, he sends her away rather than explore his heart’s deepest desire. Betrayed by many including his wife, his apprentice (Regina) and many of the townspeople when they try to get out of the bargains he strikes, Rumple trusts no one. Rumple’s biggest flaw is his desire for acceptance and love. He places himself in a vulnerable position when he allows himself to mistake August (aka Pinocchio) for his son, and again when he prostrates himself to Belle in the library after admitting to her he is still a coward. It is this flaw more than the others that will ultimately lead to his downfall, as a man as powerful as RumpleGold cannot afford to wear his hat on his sleeve in such a manner.

The Tragic Hero Suffers a Reversal of Fortune

When Rumple agrees to kill The Dark One in order to release him from his misery and gain his power, he thinks life can only get better. Rather than ostracize and ridicule him as being the village coward, the villagers will be forced to revere him or he will turn them into a snail and crush them like the bugs they are. Instead, people ostracize him further. Instead of their disgust, he garners their fear. If he is The Dark One, he surmises, his wife will beg to come back to him and he will win back his son’s respect. Instead, he loses them both. Perhaps worse, he loses himself in the bargain. As we have seen with Regina, magic is addictive. In a brilliant turn of events, Regina runs to psychiatrist Archie Hopper (aka Jiminy Cricket) when she falls off the magic wagon. Like Regina, Rumple is addicted to magic. He does not know how to interact with others without offering them some sort of magical deal and, as previously stated, he chooses magic over securing his deepest heart’s desire. It seems to me that there is no lower ground to which a man who kisses a soldier’s boot in front of his son can stoop, but Rumple seems to do it. At times I am left to wonder, which is better—being ridiculed for cowardess but still having my son, or having all the power in the world at my fingertips and being utterly alone in, not one, but two, worlds.

The Tragic Hero’s Actions Bring About an Increased Sense of Self-awareness and Self-knowledge and the Audience Must Feel Pity and Fear for the Character

As writers continue to flesh out Rumple’s character, we learn he is very much self aware. The mystery in season one questioned who, out of all of the characters, remembered their FTL past. I love the scenes in which Rumple and Regina verbally spar. In one of these scenes, Rumple is in SB’s jail and Regina is compelled to sit and talk to him (she must do whatever Rumple says when he says “please” as a part of the original curse). The moment where he reveals he remembers his FTL name is an incredible step toward his admitting he is still The Dark One and the audience can’t help but fear what will happen to him if the others regain their memory and learn of his name. In season two, the Rumbelle ship continues to sail on very choppy waters. As they battled a wave that threatened to sink their ship, Rumple admitted to Belle that he is still a coward. What a brilliant moment toward Rumple’s self-awareness of the man behind the beast. At that moment, I felt nothing but pity for the character played to expertly by Robert Carlyle. He still loves her. And in admitting that he needed her, he revealed a vulnerability that instilled fear in audience members such as myself who watch the show primarily for this character. Many in the blogosphere believe that Hook will seek revenge for Rumple’s killing Milha on Belle. Having begun his descent out of the pit that is his addiction to magic, I can’t help but fear that without Belle he will fall back to magic to seek his own retribution, and thus descend into madness as well.

Time, of course, will tell, and I don’t mean time on the clock swallowed by the crocodile in the original Peter Pan tale because in OUAT’s version, Rumple is the famed crock as well. As I write this, Hook and Emma, still trapped in the ruined FTL are about to discover Jack’s beanstalk in their quest to find a portal to SB so Emma and Snow can be reunited with their family and Hook can “skin” the crock that took his hand and his love. My hope for Rumple is that he remains intact for the balance of the series, however long that may be, and not fall prey to the death visited on most other tragic heroes at the end of the tale.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow. I am enjoying participating in the online forums on their web page at in the mean time. One of the forums asks that you post your plot synopsis for critique and then critique the synopsis of the person who has posted before you. In doing this, I came up with an amazing synopsis for the novel I plan to finish over the next month called THE REVENANT.

In case you don’t know, a revenant, is someone who has died as a result of violence with unfinished business and who comes back to complete the business. The legend of the revenant goes hand in hand with vampire lore in that many revenants were also thought to have been vampires.

In THE REVENANT, Janke, a farm boy, is thrown and trampled by his horse on the way to elope with Alma, his sweetheart. Shunned by his family when he rises after his funeral, he roams the country until he meets The Seer (a man who is able to see the future in his life span) in modern times. He reinvents himself as Zulu. Still searching for his beloved Alma, he joins The Seer in his quest to save the people he sees die in his dreams. At the same time, Malchus, The Seer’s brother, a powerful necromancer, is inadvertantly ripped from hell by teens experimenting with a Ouija board. Malchus has one goal in mind—to exact revenge on his twin brother Morgan—now known as “The Seer”—for killing him all those years ago. Joined by empath Kat, the group of three learns of Morgan’s resurrection and they gear up for the battle of their lives to save the city, and the world in which they live from Malchus’s evil.
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Monday, October 29, 2012

Macbeth and World Without End

Teaching grade 10 Academic English in a GTA school has been a challenging task to say the least. Right now, I am struggling with how to teach students to write a “3R Journal” for the Independent Study Projects (ISPs) which are worth 15% of their marks for the semester. The “3Rs” stand for “Retell”, “Relate”, and “Reflect”. Students are given a long list of questions they can choose to answer in each category based on a novel they selected for the ISPs, but they have difficulty using critical thought to produce a deep analysis. The Retell section does not use literary terminology (i.e., protagonist, antagonist, setting, mood/atmosphere, etc.) nor does it include a discussion of theme; the Retell does not take literature, television and movies into account to do a thoughtful comparison, and the Relate does not look at the real world and evaluate the author’s portrayal of teen issues, given the state of the world in which we live. In spite of the list of question, in spite of my preaching, and, yes, in spite of providing exemplars.

To remedy this, I have developed a labour intensive (for me) activity in which students write a 3R journal of Macbeth over 3 nights and I take it in and give them feedback so they know they are on the right track in preparation for the second of two journals. This means setting everything aside, including other marking and planning, in favour of providing detailed feedback that most of them will never read. And I get mostly drek in return for my troubles. Maddening.

I have a pretty good exemplar for the Retell portion of Macbeth which I share with the students when I give the assignment back after assessment. I sat down to provide them with a Relate, but found it difficult. I could talk about matters involving the current political climate in Ontario in which the Education Minister has used her power to subjugate, first teachers and then the rest of the public sector, ignoring their right to strike in strict defiance of the labour relations act. In this case, she relates to Macbeth because she is using her power for personal gain, possibly so she can say she single-handedly fixed what is wrong with paying public sector workers their due, and mending the broken budget, while ignoring the fact that she and her colleagues, public sector workers all, earn more than double teachers et al, but we are not supposed to discuss union matters with our students.

I could talk about the recent political upheaval in the Middle East and how many dictators in that part of the world have recently earned their dues, but that may potentially offend the student population, the majority of which are Muslims and may prefer to call these main saints rather than dictators. If I ask them to be politically correct and not refer to Macbeth as “a Hitler”, then I must, too, be equally PC and steer clear of Muslim politics.

I decided to scrap the Retell exemplar, resolved that, as long as the students gave me apples-to-apples comparisons (i.e., friends peer-pressuring one into smoking a cigarette does not equal Lady Macbeth “peer-pressuring” Macbeth into killing Duncan, primarily because a woman was not considered to be the peer of a man and the offenses do not compare in their severity), and gave me examples from the text to back up their assertions—in other words, as long as they tried—they would earn their “E” for excellent. Then I saw last week’s episode of World Without End.

World Without End, based on Ken Follett’s novel, takes place in the 1300s (300 years before Shakespeare wrote Macbeth) mostly in the town of Kingsbridge in which Petranilla (played by Cynthia Nixon) is a character to rival Lady Macbeth in the throes of PMS. Driven to secure her safety and security she schemes, lies, poisons, commits treason and murder to get her son, Godwyn, successfully elected prior. Her son takes the role of Macbeth, allowing himself to be persuaded by her plan for him, eventually driven near mad by his lust for his cousin, Caris, and The Black Death as it ravages his body and mind. He temporarily loses the title of prior—to Caris—due to his illness. With Godwyn incapacitated, Petranilla goes after a new target, this one a son born out of wedlock and given to a town couple to raise. Having poisoned her illegitimate son’s father, Roland, the Earl of Shiring, she convinces Queen Isabella (Aure Atika) to give the priori back to Godwyn, and to give Ralph (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) the Earl of Shiring title, so he can rule Kingsbridge and take Phillippa, the girl of his dreams, and Roland’s daughter as his wife (nevermind the fact that this makes Ralph and Phillippa half-siblings). So far, in his “new gloss” as Earl of Shiring, Ralph has fared about as well as Macbeth. His peasants revolt, killing his men, and Phillippa commits suicide rather than allow him to touch her on their wedding night.

Another link to Macbeth is talk of witches. If you remember your high school English, Macbeth meets three witches who prophesy his future. Driven by what they say, he and his wife kill the current king. With that done, Macbeth continues to kill anyone who threatens his crown, including innocent women and children. At one time, Lady Macbeth prays to dark forces to give her more manly attributes which links her to the witches as well. In school, I discuss, at length, Elizabethan beliefs which include religion, superstition and witchcraft. This year I was able to use World Without End as a parallel, as both Caris and her mentor are accused of being witches for their practice of “the healing arts”. First Caris’s mentor is hanged for being a witch when she insists on amputating a man’s arm rather than healing it with a poultice of dung. Later, having pissed off the Prior (before Godwyn assumes the position), she, too is accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to death. It is only by agreeing to be a sister of the priori that she is able to remain alive. The notion of religion versus superstition and a belief in witchcraft, the supernatural and the afterlife are themes that are prevalent, not only in medieval literature, but contemporary literature as well.

Next semester, when it is time for the practice 3R journal, I will be able to provide them with a Relate exemplar, a modification of this blog entry. Hopefully that will help students to understand how they can relate their novels to themes and characters in other literature and/or popular culture.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Secret Daughter - Critique

When I reached out to the website offering reviews of science fiction by new authors, I hoped to get back something I could use, something that would help me market my eBook. Instead, I got a cursory glance at the first chapter or two of the manuscript and a series of negative comments that, had I not developed a tough skin over the years, would have made me throw in the proverbial writing towel.

I am a high school English teacher. For the past few years I have been blessed with counting Writer’s Craft among the courses I teach. The first third of the course is about “showing, not telling”. When you show, you engage the reader’s senses. “Pink cheeks” is telling; “rosy bloom” is showing. “Putrid smell” is telling; “rotten boiled cabbage” is showing. I pride myself on trying to incorporate showing and not telling in my writing. The review I received told me my writing tended toward exposition and I needed to show more.

I finished reading Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s novel, Secret Daughter this week, the story of two families, the Merchants and the Thakkars. Kavita and Jasu Merchant live in poverty in India. Jasu’s cousin kills their first child, a girl, because she is not a boy and the family will not be able to afford her dowry when she is grown. Unable to live with the same potential fate for her second daughter, Kavita travels with her cousin to give the baby to an orphanage. Their third child is a boy who, when he grows, helps his family climb from poverty with the proceeds of a drug trafficking business. Kavita never forgets her other two children. Upon what may be her death bed over twenty years later, Jasu finds out about their “secret daughter” and goes to the orphanage to find she was adopted by a family and taken to America. Somer and Krishnan are a mixed-race American couple who cannot have children. They travel to India to adopt Asha, a year old child, and bring her back to raise her in America. When she grows, she travels back to India to stay with Kris’s family and search out her birth parents. She finds their previous and current homes, but not them. In the process she learns how lucky she was to have been adopted by her parents.

Gowda’s writing style is mostly exposition with little dialogue (a good showing technique). In order to cover a span of more than twenty years in a single novel, I suppose one would have to tell—which can take the narrative far in a short amount of time—rather than show—which slows the narrative down or brings it to a halt while the reader lives in the moment, so to speak. Though the story she tells is touching, I found it hard to identify with any one character because they seemed flat. Somer, disappointed that she cannot have her own children is not excited about Asha’s adoption, which only drives home the fact that she and her husband are more different than alike. Rather than embrace and enjoy the child, Somer detaches herself from her family. While this makes an interesting dichotomy in that one mother loved her child enough to save her while the other remains distant and one father would have ended his child’s life while the other is the loving parent, I would have liked to have known more about Somer’s thoughts and feelings, more about her relationship with her daughter and how she can remain believing herself an outsider in her own family when there is a young child that is relying on her nurturing and support.

Point of view is another issue. Gowda’s novel is written in third person limited present tense, a point of view I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anything I’ve ever read. In general, present tense demands a sense of urgency, an interesting voice that has an interesting perspective on the events that take place. By contrast, third person limited, while containing the thoughts and observations of the main character, is filtered through the narrator’s eyes, which is why, I assume, it is almost always past tense, with the narrator reporting on something as if it has already happened. The third person limited present tense point of view did not work for me. I found the present tense awkward, and the limited more objective, than I would have liked. At nearly 600 ePages, the point of view made the novel seem much longer than it was. As I was at a loss to identify with any one character, there was nothing motivating me to continue to read, other than a desire to see Asha reunited with her birth mother, which never happens.

My reading tastes are eclectic. I write mainly science fiction, but I dabble in detective fiction. I prefer reading literary fiction to mainstream. I love the language and will often read a book if the story isn’t interesting, but the narrative voice is entertaining (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is case in point—brilliant narrative, less than interesting story). So why didn’t I like Secret Daughter? I wasn’t adopted, nor have I ever adopted a child, but I do have a family member that was adopted. I watched the anguish of her family as she found her birth mother and all but abandoned the family that raised her in favour of the woman who gave her up more than thirty years prior. I am a mother. Maybe this is why I can identify with Kavita’s motivations, yet question Somer’s. My bachelor’s degree is in Cultural Anthropology, so I was intrigued by Asha’s story as she learns about the children of the slums and their mothers and, in doing so, learns about the life she could have lived, had she not been given up for adoption, had she been allowed to live at all.

While I admire Gowda for publishing this, her first novel, in spite of breaking all the rules, I can’t help but feel a pang of contempt for all those “professionals” in whom I placed absolute trust to honestly critique my work. To all those people who told me I don’t show enough, I shouldn’t change points of view, I should consider changing from present to past tense, don’t have too many narrative voices, and make me feel like there is something wrong with my writing and that if I just do as they say I will get published, point taken; if you stray too far from the mould people may not read it because it is different from mainstream fiction. After reading Secret Daughter, hailed as a successful piece of literature, and rightly so, I have to wonder why new authors are criticized for being different. I chose to ignore the critique from that site, by the way. One thing I’ve learned in this process is that I can’t be a Charlaine Harris or a Kathy Reichs or a Margaret Atwood. I’d rather be true to my voice and my process and do right by my characters instead.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Flat and Round
Colin O’Donoghue who plays Killian Jones aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time is handsome, I’ll give him that. The blogosphere was abuzz with how Hook will give Rumple a run for his money, how he will be the biggest and baddest villain on the show. The problem with these theories is that Hook is flat whilst Rumple is rounded. Hook will be no match for Rumple due to Rumple’s multifoliate interior.

Characters are of two types, flat and rounded. Flat characters are doomed to live their lives out in Flatland, the one-dimensional world created by Edwin A. Abbott and popularized by Sheldon Cooper in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. That is to say, when looked at head on, they have shape and dimension, an appearance, names, a purpose, but when they turn sideways, they devolve into nothing more than flat lines, indistinguishable from one character to the next. Flat characters function as “phaser bait”, they serve a purpose, nothing more. They are the innocents Palmer and Michael (my characters) interview in their investigation that give up their information and then vanish, never to be seen or heard from again. They are Molly’s students who find an important artifact and then get about with their studying. They are the pirates who cheer on Hook in his bid to belittle Rumple and then fade into the background. They are the Milhas, the women who spur a duel between two characters, never to be heard from again. Last night’s Hook seems to have no motivation other than to kidnap women for the pleasure of he and his crew and then, later, to avenge Milha’s death. Or maybe it’s to get back at “The Crocodile” (a brilliant turn of events, nicknaming Rumple this) for taking his hand. OUAT’s Hook is narcissistic, and single-minded. Girls and wealth are his only motivator.

Ever the round character, Rumple continues to amaze. All this time, the viewer was led to believe his sole motivation was to bring magic to Storybrooke so he could wield power over Regina, The Evil Queen. Now we learn his sole purpose is to overcome his cowardly past, to be reunited with those he loves and prove to them he is worthy. In a stroke of genius, the writers send Rumple to Belle to humble himself and apologize for his transgressions where she is concerned. He is a man who knows he is imperfect, someone who is capable of vengeful murder (Milha’s) and sweet gestures (giving Belle the key to the library), but at his core, he is a man whose sole desire is to be loved, and to love, but he doesn’t know how. Rumple looks upon people as possessions. He became The Dark One to keep Bae with him. He killed Milha (his wife) because he could not possess her. He imprisoned Belle in his dungeon because he feared she, like all those before her, would leave. Rumple’s motivation to bring back magic so he can leave Storybrooke and find his son is heart-achingly poignant and gives the character depth.

Granted, Hook is a new character and we’ve only seen him in a single episode designed to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke, and he will be fleshed out in the weeks to come. But so far, the simple fact that Hook was introduced to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke supports my theory that he is a flat character. He has a purpose; he has no self-motivation to speak of thus far. Contrastingly, when we are first introduced to Rumple, he is already The Dark One, his origins a mystery cloaked in an impish exterior. He is jailed, he grants wishes, he is hated and revered by virtually everyone in Storybrooke. We know there is an age-old rivalry between he and Regina and we ache to find out what that is. Juxtapose that with Storybrooke’s Gold who may or may not remember his life before the curse, and Rumplegold is multi-dimensional from the start.

Last night’s OUAT opened a multitude of possibilities for the season(s) to come. I like that, unlike while watching so much formulaic prime time tripe, I never know what to expect. And even when I intuit the formula, I am still satisfied with what I see. Kudos to OUATs writers and actors, but especially to Mr. Robert Carlyle who brings justice to the character of Rumplestiltskin, a tragic hero if ever one there was.
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Friday, October 19, 2012

PHASE SHIFT - Prologue

Here is the Prelude, the first chapter of my novel PHASE SHIFT.


I am laying in the dark listening to my husband’s raspy almost-snore, unable to sleep. To keep myself occupied, I try to remember when I first knew I wanted to be an archaeologist.

After seeing the first Indiana Jones movie as a teenager, perhaps? No, Indy merely served to bolster my interest in the field. The real turning point came while watching a documentary called “In Search of Noah’s Ark” when I was no more than twelve, back in the time before the super cinemas. It was then, I knew. Wood decomposed to nothing but dark shadows in the soil, aerial photographs of well-fed vegetation, and measurements approximating those in The Bible—I still shudder in awe at the thought of it.

My first real taste of archaeology was in the middle of a conservation area almost an hour’s drive north of the city: dark soil dampening trouser knees and buttocks, dirt rammed under fingernails, blowing out a peppering of dust mixed with snot on the Kleenex—man! I was hooked.

A few years later I was near graduation and looking toward grad school. Dr. Richardson, the head of the Archaeology department, offered to be my faculty advisor and I accepted without hesitation. He assigned me a site, the remains of a carriage house behind a restored clapboard house, built nearly two centuries ago. The planning, supervision, excavation and analysis of the site over two years’ time would earn me my Master’s degree.

My assistants and I arrived at the house, to find Dr. Richardson sitting on the stoop reading Scientific American, anissue featuring an article about a cache of Peruvian mummies. Dr. Richardson is a forensic anthropologist. That means he gets off on dead people and figuring out how they died. He works extensively with the police, to give them clues as to what decomposed bodies and skeletons might have looked like while they were still living and breathing.

We approached the stoop and he stood to greet us. I had to crane my neck and shield my eyes from the sun in order to meet his gaze. He smiled at me, said hello and squeezed my shoulder. My stomach lurched. Dr. Richardson is what we used to call “a hunk”. The first time my mother met him she called him “a dreamboat” and said she wouldn’t throw him out of her bed for eating crackers. The way things turned out, that comment was so many different levels of wrong.

The house was converted to a living museum sometime in the late eighties. The side entrance, added on around the same time, smelled of new carpet and fresh paint. Pictures of the house in various stages of disrepair and renovation hung on the walls like windows into the past. Dr. Richardson gave us the grand tour: men’s parlor, women’s sitting room, dining room, upstairs ballroom, and nurseries. A narrow staircase took us up to the third floor servants’ quarters.

Back downstairs, Dr. Richardson showed us the kitchen. The walls were of unfinished wood made dark by soot. At the centre of one wall was the original hearth, complete with bake ovens. A single wooden table stood in the middle of the room, deeply scarred through use and over time, and in the far corner, the kitchen pantry, converted to a small storage-cum-utility closet after the restorations. Near the ceiling Dr. Richardson pointed to a series of wallpaper layers. He recited each occupation and era by rote and I was in awe of him.

He finished his lecture and ushered us out of our cramped quarters. I chanced a glance up at him and he smiled at me. A perfect three-toed crow’s foot appeared to frame the outer edge of each of his eyes. The solitary, unshaded light bulb that dimly lit the room shone in his dark eyes—a girl could get lost in those eyes. I blushed, embarrassed at the lust I felt for him at that moment, chastising myself for falling for my faculty advisor. But then I reminded myself that Dr. Richardson was a good sixteen years’ my senior, and everyone knew he was seeing Suzanne Pascoe, the Egyptologist. Dr. Richardson was safe, like a movie star. Like a movie star, he was unattainable, and consequently, not entirely real. I told myself the crush would pass, and it eventually did.

Palmer’s snoring again. I nudge him, tell him to roll over, then roll over myself, wedging one hand between his rib cage and the mattress and one foot arch-deep between his thighs. He doesn’t protest.

Sleep has eluded me this evening. Pretty soon my bedside alarm will begin to shriek at me, signifying the start of yet another day. I need a drink. Tea would go down good right about now. Hot tea with honey and lemon.

In the kitchen I fill the kettle and plug it in. While I wait for the water to boil, I stroll into the living room and take a peek out the front window. Two black sedans are parked on the road, each facing opposite directions, waiting for me in case I decide to take it on the lam. Inside each car sits a pair of officers—which officers are out there tonight is anybody’s guess. The possibilities read like a who’s who for law enforcement: CIA, CSIS, OPP… It’s funny how quickly things spiral out of your control: yesterday I was an archaeology professor considering earning my doctoral degree. Today I am the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

The kettle begins to boil. I unplug it. Sometime between eying the sedans and thinking about the death I may have expedited, I’ve lost my appetite for tea.

I return to bed, drawing my body close to Palmer’s, more for security than warmth. I find solace in the fact I was right about one thing when I was struggling with that crush on my faculty advisor all those years ago: Palmer Richardson is safe.

Friday, October 12, 2012


An archetype in literature is like a prototype, a version after which other versions are patterned. This is, I think, what makes me a fan of Once Upon a Time. In television’s Storybrooke, archetypal characters are brought to life, both as archetypes and as modern versions of themselves. In season one, it was the dichotomy of their personalities that drew me in, the difference between Storybrooke’s David and Fairytaleland’s Charming. The self-assured Snow versus the meek and unconfident Mary-Margaret. What made it especially fun were the peeks into the archetype that I imagine to be bubbling just beneath the surface in Regina and Gold, the only two characters with intact memories, and the repartee between them. I named my blog “My Own Little Storybrooke”, because I understand that all imagined characters and storylines are based on archetypal ones, new spins on old ideas. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s the deviation between the traditional and the new that makes these stories so exciting.

Take Smallville for example, the last spin on the Superman archetype. The Superman legend enamours me for its romanticism, in which the archetypal story is the boy next door who turns out to be the strongest, most virtuous and handsome person on the planet. Or maybe it’s about the nerdy guy that has a crush on you who is just as worthy as the captain of the football team, but you’ll never know because you can’t get past his nerdy exterior. Revenge of the Nerds just popped into my head, a group of nerds who are shunned until their superpower (great sex) is discovered. They get the girl, but continue to battle the jocks in the sequel. Read: Superman/Clark Kent hooks up with Lois Lane but continues to battle Lex Luthor and other villains in the sequels.

It is The Beauty and the Beast archetype that spurred this blog entry. When read as even the lowest creature is worthy of love, the archetype has merit. But this archetype could be seen to have a darker meaning, one with undertones of Battered Wife Syndrome and/or Stockholm Syndrome, in which the victim begins to identify with her attacker/captor, using love as an excuse to stay. In The Beauty and the Beast legend (and I’m going with popular culture’s version and not the original archetype which I haven’t read), a brave girl (Belle in the Disney and ABC versions) breaks the damsel in distress mould and decides to save her family rather than having them protect her. She volunteers to go with the Beast who mistreats her and locks her in the dungeon. Eventually, he releases her so she can take care of his castle. Because he shows her sporadic kindness, she falls in love with him. Once he wins her love the spell is broken and he is no longer a beast.

While I love the OUaT version, Rumple is really rough with Belle, to the point where one might ask how she could possibly fall in love with him. Perhaps Gold’s confession that he is a difficult man to love tugs at her heart strings. Belle, ever the martyr, sacrifices her own happiness to save the man she loves. I have to admit I was looking forward to the new Beauty and the Beast television show, premiering on Showcase last night. This version closer parallels the eighties show starring Linda Hamilton than the Disney one. In it, Kristen Kruek plays Catherine, a police officer (Linda Hamilton’s Catherine was a reporter) who meets up with Vincent, a genetically engineered super soldier turned vigilante who once saved her life. If this series is anything like the eighties one, the two team up to fight crime. While I love Linda Hamilton from The Terminator (and more recently Chuck) days, I remember watching BatB sporadically. I never quite understood why Vincent looked the way he did or why she was so attracted to him. This iteration of BatB takes place in a New York which looks a lot like a dressed up downtown Toronto (the only information I could find online was that it was filmed in Canada). Catherine meets Vincent in the first minutes of the show in 2004 when he saves her life and then we flash forward to 2012 where they meet again. Once more, he saves her from certain death and she is intrigued by him, especially when she learns he’s supposed to be dead. Long story short, they meet up, he spills the beans about his history and she agrees to keep the fact that he’s still alive a secret. So much for the slow build. Truth be told, I won’t be watching again. If I want a police procedural with a built-in love story, I’ll watch Castle instead. Speaking of Beauty and the Beast and police procedurals, Rookie Blue’s Sam and Andy kind of fit the bill—loner Sam is reluctant to succumb to Andy’s charms but eventually does. After a fellow cop is killed on his watch, Sam blames Andy and is horrible to her, playing beast to her beauty. True to archetype, even when Sam emotionally abuses Andy, the residual, reciprocal attraction remains.

Rumbelle still intrigues me, though I don’t understand Belle’s interest in staying, other than that she can’t leave Storybrooke or she’ll lose all memory of who she was. Being Beauty is much better than being a basket case locked up in the mental ward in the equivalent of Storybrooke’s dungeon. I love the new Rumplegold, a little bit Gold, a little bit Rumplestiltskin, and Robert Carlyle plays the part with slimy precision. Emilie De Ravin’s Belle is a young woman with a maturity beyond her years. She treats Gold as an impetuous child who, once he realizes he is indeed loved unconditionally, will stop playing manipulative games, grow up and be a man. Sounds a little like the relationship between Wendy and Peter Pan, doesn’t it?

Darn those archetypes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Seven Year Itch

Here is a cut scene from PHASE SHIFT. I wrote the novel over about 10 years before I self-published it this month. In that time, I had it vetted by writers in residence at the local library, workshopped it with my writer’s circle group, had it complimented and ripped mercilessly to shreds in the “Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award” competion, and a good portion of it edited the “A Woman’s Write” contest. The largest re-write occured after I lost the “A Woman’s Write” competition to someone who was an accomplished playwright, but for whom this was her first novel. The feedback from that contest was to homogenize the narrative to use Molly’s voice only. Rather than make some scenes from Palmer’s and other’s points of view, I wrote any scenes that didn’t include Molly in third person. I think it made a huge difference for perspective consistency.

I took this one out primarily because it’s in Palmers voice, but also because I think I was trying to do too much in marrying the two planets. Everything from solar flares to UFO sightings to paranormal activity seems to increase in seven year increments, or so the story goes. This scene documents Molly’s and Palmer’s perspective on that statement.

Other similar pseudo-scientific beliefs have come to us by way of perfectly explainable Gaian phenomenon. The area on Earth known as the Bermuda Triangle, for example, has long been known on Gaia as an epicentre for shifts in the planet's phase. The area had been proclaimed somewhat of a disaster area around the middle of the twentieth century. Travelers wishing to fly over or pass through the area are cautioned to alter their trajectory, lest they never return. Ironic that the area has long been known as dangerous to traverse on Earth as well. Though the cause for the crashes and disappearances in the region are prolific, none of them speculate it to be what is essentially a glitch in the planet's electromagnetic field, let alone a link to a sister planet.

Further adding to the mystique imbued in the popular culture of pseudo-science is Reyes's observation that scientists who monitor reports of random phase shift bubbles account an increase in occurrence of the phenomenon every seven years. When Molly tells me this, I simply nod. She says nothing more, as if waiting for me to make the connection. I wrack my brain, but come up empty. "So?" I ask, prompting her to continue.

"So all sorts of things are reputed to happen in sevens on Earth. June bugs for one." My mother told me this once when I was young. June bugs seem to grow in number around year three or four of the cycle, reaching the height of their population around year seven. Following that, population frequency tends to die off until their numbers start to increase and the cycle repeats itself. "I remember reading once that reports of UFO sightings reach their peak every seven years, too," she continues. It's then I make the connection. If random phase bubbles increase every seven years, that means the chance for hovercrafts being caught up in the phase bubbles also increases every seven years. It stood to reason that UFO sightings would follow suit.

"And that's not all," Molly says. "According to Reyes's information, nuclear activity on Earth has dire consequences on Gaia. Their worst disaster—and I mean something along the lines of 911—happened on or about the same day as Chernobyl.”
Don’t forget to check out PHASE SHIFT, available on KoboBooks,, Lulu, and now at the iBookstore. My novella, THE MUMMY WORE COMBAT BOOTS is available at the same outlets, and should be at the iBookstore in about two weeks. If you’re unsure as to if this story is for you, please feel free to download the sneak peeks before you purchase.

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Meeting

I wrote this thinking it fit into the scene I was working on but then realized it was what the sourcces called “Information Dump” and removed it. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but here it is anyway.

This scene documents the first meeting between Molly and Palmer. This time round I imagine Robert Carlyle playing Palmer. Feel free to imagine whomever you feel fills the part as Molly.

Second year. Department Star Trek Movie Marathon. Bored studying, I'd attended alone. Palmer, Dr. Richardson, manned the concessions. I watched him interact with the others in line in front of me. The stories the high school teachers told us about university profs still vivid in my mind, I grew more and more petrified at the thought of an informal interaction with a prof--any prof--as the line drew me near. Though I knew nothing of Palmer at the time, Dr. Richardson, the department head, had a reputation for being a hard-ass. Watching his mouth as he spoke, the way he flung his hair--the perfect mix of sandy brown, dirty blond, and grey--out of his eyes, the curve of his nose, I was surprised at how personable a man with his reputation could be. When at last it was my turn to order, I wasn't sure I'd be able to speak.

"What can I get for you?" he said with a smile.

I checked out the display of items in stock. "I'll have a popcorn and a Vernors, please."

He nodded over his shoulder. “Popcorn'll be a while.” This was followed by a very awkward silence. I looked over my shoulder at the people rapidly filling the auditorium and hoped my jacket would be enough to save me my spot. “Well,” he said, “it appears we have a bit of time.”

I nodded and forced a smile; I hoped it looked natural.

“So. All American girl, are you?” I noticed he trilled his Rs slightly and wondered which culture was of influence.


“Really?” He seemed truly astonished. So what if I don’t go around saying “eh” or mispronouncing “about”.

“Yep. Born and raised. Why?”

“Vernors claims to be the oldest ginger ale in the States.”

“Really?” I said, not feigning interest at all.

“Yeah.” He shook his head to force the bangs from his eyes. When that didn’t work, he used his thumb to push them out of the way. “Dates back to the 1850s or so.”

“It’s more a nostalgic thing for me. My grandfather drank it.”

“So he's the American, then.”

“Canadian. Well, British originally, but he immigrated here when he was still very young.”

Dr. Richardson smiled a polite smile and nodded at my response. Then the awkward and very pregnant silence rose once more.

“So,” he said at last, “are you an archaeology student?”

Where was my popcorn? I was no good at small talk. And he was only slightly better than I. “Anthropology,” I answered.

“You should switch.” He winked and nodded his head once. “Archaeology's cooler.”

“I'll take that under advisement,” I said with a chuckle.” Thanks.”

The popcorn continued to pop behind the glass of the movie theatre popper the club had rented for the week. It smelled of childhood and Disney movies. Then the opening fanfare of the movie sounded.

“You should come back later,” he said. “You'll miss the beginning”.

“No I won't. This is my favourite one of the series. I must've seen it like a dozen times.”

He laughed once. “Noob,” he said.

“See that guy? The one with the blue shirt and pointy ears over there? He's seen the movie 32 times. And that guy dressed in leather with the bad wig and dreds? 53 times. That guy? The one in the red jacket and white bib? Over 100 times.”

“So what's your number?” I asked him, intentionally provocative. The awkward silence gone, engaged in real conversation like we were, I was beginning to see why he was so popular amongst my female peers in the department.

“I haven't seen the movie yet.”

“Not even once?”

“Well I guess technically, this will be my first time then, won’t it?” He leaned forward on the counter between us, as if to let me in on a secret. “I saw a couple a few episodes of the original series when I was younger. Never quite got the hang of it, I’m afraid.”

“But you study anthropology. Star Trek's all about culture. It’s about all the cultures in the universe coming together. It's about hope in a world where hope is a rare commodity. It tells us that if we can just learn to get along the human race still has a future.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” he said. A student had begun to bag the fresh popcorn. Dr. Richardson handed one the bags to me. “I don't study anthropology. I study archaeology. You should switch. Way cooler.”

I smiled in thanks and said that I should go. He told me to enjoy. When I got back to my seat I looked back at him. The light in the concession stand was the only one in the room besides the projection on the screen. Dr. Suzanne Pascoe, the Egyptology prof approached him from behind and placed a hand on the small of his back. He turned to her and they embraced.

After the movie I saw Dr. Richardson hold her coat for her. He seated it on her shoulders and then reached in behind the collar to lift her long, blonde waves from beneath the jacket. He kissed the back of her neck while it was exposed and then let her hair flow naturally down her neck and back. As I put my own jacket on, I wished I had someone that would treat me with the same tenderness and intimacy as the moment we, unbeknownst to them, had just shared.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Press Release for PHASE SHIFT

Can you dig it?

English teacher and former archaeologist Elise Abram is proud to announce the publication of her first novel, PHASE SHIFT, which follows the adventures of archaeologists Molly McBride and her husband, Dr. Palmer Richardson after they are given an unusual artifact with the ability to take them to a doppelganger Earth. Abram has been writing ever since she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Having to research writing and the writing process gave her the confidence she needed to actually put proverbial pen to paper. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back. Nearly ten years after PHASE SHIFT’s inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and try to publish the manuscript on her own.

In her novels, Abram marries two of her passions, writing and archaeology, while paying tribute to the city in which she grew up. Born and raised in Toronto, Abram’s novels take place on sites modelled after actual archaeological sites in and around the city. Her characters volunteer at the Royal Ontario Museum and teach at the University of Toronto, and mummies are X-rayed and CT-scanned at downtown hospitals.

Abram continues to write, no easy task, given the demands of teaching three English courses each semester, and raising three teenagers simultaneously. Currently, she is working on another Molly McBride adventure, tentatively called THE NEXT COMING RACE, and inspired by Edward Bullwer-Lytton’s classic “The Coming Race”, which melds pseudo-scienceand paranormal phenomenon in a race to save the world after a device left behind by aliens in the future is activated. Also in the works is THE REVENANT, a take on the current young adult vampire craze, and CHICKEN OR EGG: A LOVE STORY, revolving around a time travel love triangle.

PHASE SHIFT is available at on the Amazon and KoboBooks web sites.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Still Writing

It's been a while since I've posted, but I'm still writing. At this moment, Phase Shift is engaged in one publisher's query, an agent's query and now I'm entering it in the Writer's Digest "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. I'm also writing my first project without Molly and Palmer! It's the time-travel epic I've wanted to write but have never figured out the point without having the protagonist go back and witness historical events. I think I have it now...and it came to me in a dream of all things. Well, the kernal of the idea, the first chapter is what came to me in a dream. I thought it would make a good short story at first, but then it grew and before you know it I had an amazing plot twist and just when I thought that was the balance of the story, another plot twist. I need to fill in the blanks, of course (and God only knows when I'll find the time for that), but I've got a new project, one I thought I'd never write, and I'm loving every minute of it!