Friday, November 26, 2010

Excerpt. 'Home to Ithaca,' (subject to change.)

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

“Ithaca, here we come,” grinned Ulysses in anticipation of a good journey, feasting his eyes and his senses on the hills, and fields and pastures of Greece.

“It feels good to be dry again,” said the hoplite Aristides. “The ground still pitches underfoot, but the lingering memory of the wine last night helps, rather than hinders.”

“Some country air, and what a beautiful country we share, shall clear your head out!” noted Thucydides.

“No need to shout,” noted Ulysses, ambling along between the other two. “Feast your eyes, my friends, and feast your lungs, and your hearts, for surely that is the best cure for a well-earned hangover. Some good, honest walking is what you fellows require.”

He lengthened his stride and soon had them cursing and laughing.

“Slow down, Ulysses, or you shall walk alone!” said his elder companion, the sturdy and studious Thucydides. “Eager as you are to taste the sweet delights of home and the lovely Penelope, we will sleep by the road tonight one way or another.”

“Look at the olive trees,” sighed Aristides. “The gods may have Mount Olympus to themselves, heroes as we undoubtedly are. Give me home, and good honest toil upon my own soil. Give me peace and quiet, my wife and my daughters, my brothers and sisters, and my olive trees. Give me my sparkling stream and my good horses, for surely never was there a finer team.”

“You can speak or be silent, I shall enjoy this walk one way or another,” agreed Ulysses. “But, oh, if only I could fly, I would tarry not with you my friends, but go upon the wings of Pegasus!”


Author's note: So this is what I have bitten into and it sure looks interesting. As for putting Thucydides in there, it's early yet and it's easy enough to change a name. If you are already familiar with Homer's classic tale, then the challenges are easy to see, especially as I hope to make a short story of about 10,000-20,000 words.

I would also prefer to remain as true as possible to the spirit of the original and in some ways to ignore 'back story.' I have no idea of how long this will take or where it might eventually be published.

I have a simple nuts and bolts approach to writing. What I need is a good rough draft that has a beginning, a middle, a climax, and an ending that is nice and short.

By printing out the relevant book-notes studied by millions of students over the years, I can keep the basic facts straight. While not a big fan of fantasy, I think I can deal with the story in purely human terms, as if it were historical fiction and nothing else.

In some sense, Ulysses himself is a myth, and Homer's work is a hard act to follow. Like the character I am studying, I kind of like to take a few risks, but I also like to think it through.

So far, I'm having a blast. I can't wait for the bloodbath scene, and the final act, if I can call it that, may end up being sublime comedy.

As for the tendency to make it a sort of half-rhyming prose, I don't know why that is. It just sort of happened.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Professionalism Check List. Common Errors.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Re-write every story before making a new submission.

Use proper manuscript format, unless otherwise specifically stated.

Read the guidelines again, before each submission.

Put my ID on every submission except where otherwise specifically stated.

Include the word count on the submission itself unless otherwise stated.

Try to determine the country of the publisher and use the appropriate style, (U.S., U.K., Canada.)

Fact-check every single thing in the story where I am relying on memory.

Is this an appropriate submission?

Am I submitting to the highest possible paying market place?

Learn how to write a decent query or do not send it.

Note every submission in my List of Subs.

My most common errors: see list above.

Taxes and Death.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Ten or fifteen years ago, the music industry lobbied the government of Canada to put a fifty cent tax on cassette tapes. This was because I was ripping off the music industry every time I bought a cassette tape to record my guitar practice.

That’s because I am a criminal. Oh, yeah, and that tax is still in place.

Why, it was only last week when somebody or other was looking for a new tax, because if I re-read the magazine I just purchased, I was ripping them off.

Oh, yeah, I remember now—some asshole wants to tax hard drives because every time I use my computer, I am ripping off their God-given (or God-damned,) rights. Somehow. I don’t know, it’s not my job to explain it, as the CRTC will rubberstamp it anyway. That’s their job.

So now the big Canadian music stars (Alannah Noniabu, Melville Straighto, The Knucklehead Shitberries, Freddie and the Fucksticks,) are lobbying the CRTC for a tax on MP-3’s, and of course the reason given is that somehow I am a criminal for liking music or something. An MP-3 is a stream of data, actually, but somehow the government doesn’t know this. They want to tax my data. That is the real issue here, but none of them will admit it—listen to the streaming lies coming out of their lying, thieving, fucking dingbat media outlets.

You know, it seems like it was only last year when I lobbied the CRTC against CTV’s (The Olympic Channel,) demand for a $10 per month tax on cable. Oh, yes, Canwest Global just sold their unprofitable EM broadcast stations to some foreign dingbat who will instantly transform those into money making outfits, (or otherwise they just got ripped off.) I guess that tax pays them to take it off Canwest’s hands. That and the thirteen percent HST in Ontario. That tax killed the BC premier. Dalton McGuinty seems pretty safe, for some reason. The mainstream media always says, the 'tax and spend' NDP. Hah! They haven't governed since the early nineties, ancient history. The media carried all the demands for the present massive deficit on their front pages and their evening news.

They also endorsed it in their editorials, yeah; it was called 'stimulus.'

You want to know the truth? I watch the Weather Network. Otherwise I can’t stand looking at the fucking television, and incidentally, the fact that ‘Heartland’ was picked up by CBC and French public TV is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the milieu.

(I won’t comment on French public TV. It’s not my job, thank you very much.)

I haven’t been to a movie in the theatre for thirty years. I haven’t been in a bookstore in about the same amount of time. I have not bought a CD in at least ten years. I haven’t bought a magazine since 1986.

I fell from a scaffold and broke my back in three places, but I got a fuck of a lot more spine than you piss-ants. Just for the record, I’m not asking for anything.

What I am doing, is telling you fucking jerks to fuck off.

One more thing: I hereby demand a fifty-cent tax on every every e-book reader bought by a Canadian. That’s because I have four published e-books. And I’m getting ripped off, I tell you. It’s just a rip-off, and every one of them is one hundred fucking percent Canadian Content.

I’ll be back next week with a few more formats and demands. Why, I’m a Canadian artist, I tell you. I’m a fucking star.

Why don’t you fucking assholes go apply for a cultural grant or something, your fucking back’s not fucking broken.

Aw, fuck, somebody please kill me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Editor's Note:

In a previous post, Louis thinks he may have confused the First Law of Motion for the First Law of Thermodynamics.

The first law of motion states, 'for every action there will be an opposite and equal reaction.'

The first law of thermodynamics states, 'if you place two bodies of unequal temperature together, the heat will flow from the one with the highest temperature to the one of lower temperature until the two bodies are in equilibrium.'

The lesson is a simple one: why rely on memory when it is so easy to check the facts?

Louis had the law right but the name wrong! Yet this could so easily have been caught.

We regret any inconvenience. If Louis can remember which post that was...we could go and fix it. Louis says he has fixed it.

Sorry about all that. Never mind. -ed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Excerpt. 'The Handbag's Tale.'

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1913 (Street Scene.)

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Maintenon regarded the woman as Levain took notes. Her eyes gleamed dully across the desk, scarred with the cigarette burns of a million other interviews. The uniformed police had provided reams of notes for them. They had no witnesses and no one to arrest.

“Smoke?” he offered.

She shook her head, numb. Eloise was very vulnerable, pale blonde hair limp and her features showing fatigue. Her shoulders were slumped. She had been given a moment to wipe away the streaks of mascara from her tears. She was composed, now, he thought.

“Do you mind?”

The sound of the match flaring was loud in the stillness, the only other noise some intermittent typing in the distance.

She just ignored him, dumbly. She looked away at Levain for a moment, then met his eyes.

“I’m very sorry for all of this,” he began. “But we need to ask you a few questions.”

Andre scribbled away in the oppressive silence as the inspector blew a smoke ring up towards the light.

Andre looked up for a moment.

“Would you like some tea?” he asked pleasantly.

Andre looked quickly over at Maintenon.

“She’s had a nasty shock,” he told the inspector.

“No, thank you,” she said.

Maintenon went on with the questioning.

“So you are Eloise Charpentier from Cevennes. You moved here three years ago, and you work at the insurance company, and you live in apartment nineteen, one-forty-four Rue de la Portiers?”

“Yes,” she said.

“And you were looking for your purse?” asked Maintenon.

“Yes!” she agreed.

“Why were you looking for your purse in the alley?” asked the inspector.

She coloured slightly.

“I thought that I must have lost it there,” she said.

“Ah,” noted Maintenon. “Yet you did not know this deceased gentlemen, although he was at the party. He was involved briefly with another young lady, a certain Mademoiselle Vernier, also awaiting interview at this moment.”

“If you say so, sir,” she mumbled.

“Who did you arrive with?” he asked.

“With Guillaume,” she said.

“Were you smoking hashish with Guillaume in the alley?” asked Maintenon. “Or smooching?”

None of this seemed to be going anywhere and deep in his heart Maintenon knew they were just going through the motions.


So what we have is a dead body, an era, a place, (Paris,) and a group of suspects. At Genrecon 2009, I asked crime writer Dennis Collins if he sort of 'must have' a definite ending in mind, and then, 'write toward it.'

"No, I had to finish my first book just to find out who did it!" he recalled.

So that's about where I am right now. While it is true that I could simply pick a character and make them the killer, at this point in time i have no idea who killed the portly playboy banker Emile Danton. (Or even why!)

The goal at this point is simply to advance the story, by a couple of thousand words a day and see what happens. Maybe Inspector Maintenon and his husky sidekick Sergeant Levain will get a lucky break.

Editor's Note: this story is now complete at 11,000 words.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Handling Rejection.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

The key thing in dealing with rejection is to immediately sit down and submit that story somewhere else. If you receive criticisms with the rejection, naturally you should take them into account. But more often there is no criticism. Take another look at it, and then send it off again.

For a writer there is nothing more positive than reaching that point in the story when you know you really have something--something 'real,' but the second best thing is submitting. It is, after all; a positive, optimistic thing, filled with hope and promise.

My hand trembled the first time I made an e-mail submission. But then, I didn't know what would happen...and anything can happen, (at some theoretical level.)

Since May 2009 I have made 574 submissions, including short stories, books and poetry. My success rate hovers around four percent. This naturally does not include stories published on my own blog, or self-published e-books. Do the math. I guess you could say that I have learned to deal with rejection to some extent, although it still does hurt from time to time. This largely depends on how much of an emotional investment you having riding on it...right?

But it's not over until you say it is over, either. You really can't lose, unless you choose to quit.

I could bump up the success rate by plying the fledgling markets. What I am doing is submitting new stories to pro markets, at least my best stories. It keeps me sharp.


I submitted to a fledgling market last week. I would like to find a place for that story, and you never really know, do you?

The next thing on the agenda is to try a few submissions to the People's Republic of China. I have subbed there before, but had no luck. But now I have ten months of very hard training in re-writing and editing...and I make my own luck.

Most of the time there is no real valid reason for rejection. Like any smart shopper, the editor simply wasn't interested. They have only so much to spend and a pretty good idea of what they want, or at least they will know it when they see it.

This is the key to submitting: 'They will know it when they see it."

Thus we strive for excellence, and try to get inside the editor's head a little bit.

This post may be updated later.

Oh, yeah! I almost forgot. I got a couple of rejection slips today...but then I also subbed six or seven new ones!

You would have to be some kind of masochist to want this job.

I wouldn't have it any other way.


The other day I made a foriegn-language submission, and within two days I've placed a story in Nova Fantasia, (Galician, Spain.) And it was just too easy, although we all know how much the Spanish like soccer, Fernando Alonso and science fiction.

Every thing in life has its price, and success is no exception, oddly enough. I have no idea of when that will come out. Also, once you begin to actually place stories rather than just submitting them all over hell's half-acre, then it starts to matter about what the rights are. This leads to more reading, more thinking and more care and attention. It is more time-consuming. You become more selective in the markets you submit to, always with one eye on the rights. When it's no longer free, then you begin to consider the price, and whether it's really worth it--like those subs to China I mentioned earlier.

Simply put, no pay except maybe a few copies. I give away some rights, in a nation of a billion people, none of whom have ever heard my name.

The magazine has 400,000 readers, many of whom speak English and are on the internet where they could buy one of my's a trade-off. One magazine publishes the story in Chinese and English, which makes it a reprint, (or half-price) back home. It's a new foreign-language credit...very prestigious.

Yes, and at some point you have to figure out a way to keep track of it all.

You really have to consider the price of successfully placing a story in that market.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Role of Weather in Fiction.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Weather plays an important role in fiction. When writing a story, it is surprising how often the weather outside somehow makes it into the story. In ‘Heaven Is Too Far Away,’ which involves a lot of WW I flying, it is only natural that weather comes to the forefront in much of the action, and of course over a long story seasonal changes play a role as well.

Describing winter flying is easy enough for the typical radio-control pilot, as we don’t get to sit in a nice warm cabin. I have flown models in -25 Celsius temperatures with winds of 25-35 k’s right in the face. The first thing that happens is the eyes water up, and there really is a chance of freezing your eyeballs.

The most vulnerable parts of the body in terms of frostbite would be the fingers and the ears.

In writing science fiction, for example in my as-yet unreleased fourth novel, ‘Time-storm,’ the weather on an alien planet can be fun, interesting and challenging to write about. When creating an entire ecosystem for your characters to run around in, if the planet is hot, this has some bearing on the attire or wardrobe! If it’s cold, they either dress for it or freeze. It is just that simple, although whether they’re in silver-lame body suits, or the more modern ‘insul-suits,’ as I used in ‘Time-storm,’ is the option of the artist.

When describing an alien species, one has to think of the environment that it inhabits. For that reason the Altheans, the native aliens in 'Time-storm,' have short, dark fur, short muzzles, their ears are small and tightly bundled up to the head, and they have all sorts of other environmental adaptations. These evolutionary changes are all driven by the climate zone, as well as seasonal temperature variations in the area they live in, i.e. all weather related.

It just occurred to me that fantasy, as opposed to science fiction, leaves evolution out of the picture—and wizards and magicians control the weather. The really strange thing is; that I never knew that until after I wrote it. I guess that’s one reason why we do it. You learn something new every day in this business.

Fantasy has its own weather. In ‘Shape-shifters,’ as yet unreleased, Jean Gagnon arrives in the town of Scudmore just a few weeks before Christmas. All the action, indoors and out, is affected by the fact that it is winter, and Jean spends some time show shoveling. Other characters in the book take off to Florida, or just spend time in gossip at the local coffee shop. All the outdoor scenes take winter into account. Plot-wise I even take advantage of it, in the sense that everyone is leaving tracks, or suffers if they’re not dressed for the conditions, or merely wonders how they are going to pay the gas bill. Before running out of the house, characters might take time to put on a coat.

Life, (or fiction,) is a series of conflicts, in the sense that we all have our own selfish interests. Winter just adds an additional burden to those characters, in the case of ‘Shape-shifters.’

To some degree weather might play a role in our moods or perceptions. As writers, the mood we are in undoubtedly has some effect on what we write.

Author Update as of May 31. 2012. 'The Shape-Shifters' and other books menitoned in the text are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Diesel Books, etc. Interestingly enough, tomorrow I begin work on my second mystery novel. The first scene is an easy one. It's called, 'A body in the Seine,' and it's taking shape in my head as a grey, miserable day where the focus is not on gore, or grossing out the reader so much as drawing attention to the humble nature of most of such incidents. There is no ID on the body, and the attending gendrames are tired and grumpy from being up all through a busy night shift. It's grit rather than gristle.

The scene is Paris, in 1926. The book pays some homage to John Dickson Carr, a master of the locked-room mystery. I will be putting a twist on things, don't worry about that. The thing is half plotted out now. There will be some sensuality in there, but not erotica per se. A little full frontal nudity never hurt anyone!

Especially if it's done properly...

For more on this project and what goes into writing a mystery novel, check out 'The Art of Murder.'

According to the Weather Network, we're looking at a solid twnety-four hours of precipitation, and chilly temperatures, so again, this will be incorporated into the novel, in terms of sound, chill, and other dismal terms.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Using Google Maps to Plot a Story.

Lausanne through Google Maps. E-317 photo, shot from computer screen.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

In my story, 'Bushman,' appearing in Aurora Wolf's anthology, 'Aurora in the Dawn,' I was familiar with the geography as I had lived in the Oakville and Hamilton area years before. The problem was that I could not remember the name of one road in particular. So I used the free Google map feature that appears in any Google search page.

I followed Appleby Line north and discovered the road was Britannia, and then I checked things like Bushman's point of ambush, and got a feel for distances and terrain, etc. Other than forgetting Britannia Road, my memory seemed pretty good.

Now when I went to write, 'The New School,' which appears in my short story collection, 'The Paranoid Cat and other tales,' I had an idea for a YA fantasy that took place in a girl's school. I don't know why, but Switzerland immediately sprang to mind. Only one problem, I have never been to Switzerland, right? I picked Lausanne for one reason or another, and then I zoomed in and had a look.

And so in my story, the first scene involves the small family unit arriving at the school. They get stuck in a situation where they have to make about five right turns to get to where they are going. You see, Lausanne has lots of one-way streets in the downtown area. They also have a building just like the one described in my story. Right across the street--the track and field athletic facilities, just like it says in the story.

In that sense, the internet is a great equalizer for the aspiring writer on a budget.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It Takes a Minute To Check.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

After ten months of editing and re-writing, and then publishing my first four e-books, it feels good to get back to ordered routine and lighter duties. So far I'm basically just combing through my science-fiction folder and submitting stories that have never been placed.

I have also jotted down another three or four titles, which is often all I need to get a story going. I have a list of twenty-five titles! Until I get really desperate, I'm still not ready to write short stories. The foreign-language submissions are good practice, and I might just pick up another credit there. Another thing, is to put a steno pad and a good pen beside my pillow and write down my dreams. Usually three or four key words are all that is needed to remind one of a particularly weird dream. A few of them do make it into my stories; oddly enough.

At some point I really do have to update the list of sales and rights assigned. I have already caught myself once. Clicking on 'send,' firing an e-mail off into cyber-space, and then suddenly wondering who might be archiving that story, in what language, and for how long?

It only takes a minute to check, is what I am saying.

Let's see here. My list of submissions is up to about 546; and it is kind of hard on the eyes to scroll through it endlessly, but before I submit a story, I want to know if I have already subbed that particular one to that particular editor, and once or twice in the past I have in fact 'double-subbed.' It just makes me look dumb, right? Speaking of which, I really need to go back to many of those previously-published stories, and just maybe re-read the rights purchased, etc, by those publishers. It's a good thing to review once in a while.

It only takes a minute to check, I guess that's what I'm saying.

I just read three articles in Douglas Smith's website, about being interviewed. So far no one has asked, but you never know.

'Be prepared,' and even if it never happens, at least you were prepared.

As for the art today, the image appears on my French-language blog, 'les shalako,' which basically just gives me an excuse to fool around with translations.

It's called 'Snake Girl,' or 'la jeune fille avec une serpent.'

Mon Francais il ne pas bon!

My eyes get tired. I have to go back and check for typos all the time.

There are still lots of things to be done. I really should pick a standard size, and make all the pix of my books the same! It's just unprofessional. I really should update the poetry blog. But there is only so much time in the day. The key thing is to develop good work habits, focus in on the little details, for surely the beauty lies in the details--and let that work ethic have free rein.

Because honestly, I'm no stranger to hard work.

As for promoting the books, for some reason I'm still a little shy.

Let's see here. When Mike Resnick and I first 'friended' each other on facebook, I knew that I had read at least one of his books. A no-brainer, right? He's got like sixty-five of them, and I used to haunt the sci-fi section of the local bookstore. The problem was that I could not remember a title, and that bothered me. I dug through the shelves of a back closet and came up with a tome by another author. Not Mike Resnick, thankfully, for it wasn't a very good book. Anyhow, when Mr. Resnick posted a link about his book, 'Santiago,' I recognized the cover instantly. And yes, that was one hell of a good book, as I recall, many-many years later.