Novel Cover

Novel Cover
Published January 21st, 2016.

Saturday, 17 December 2016





It has taken me four years to publicly respond to the social media comments about US National-ex-NASA-Dr. Paul Muller's controversial death, as reported in newspapers all around the world.

I didn't want my words to fade into the barrage of "opinions" posted on social media but, now, using my own blog site, I hope to to debunk the two theories that have prevailed in every radio show and on-line comment section: one, that Paul was taken out by his government, and the other, that Paul was in Thailand to partake in truly despicable acts like pedophilia.

Who am I, you ask? Paul started out as my writing mentor (he had a PhD in pretty much everything), and quickly, Paul became a friend. I became an editor for his agency, and he became my book agent. We corresponded, at length, virtually every day, and oh...and I also spent two solid weeks with the guy, just weeks before his death (more on that later).

I'm not about to defend every aspect of Paul--God, that would be difficult--but I can share what I know to be true.

If I had liken Paul to another personality, I would liken him to Sheldon Cooper from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. He spoke his mind in much the same way. I can't verify this next statement, but I'm confident that he had Aspergers Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. He was brilliant, and perhaps even a bit ADD, and he had some social blips, but he also had high moral and ethical standards that came through loud and clear during all the years that I knew him.

To address the two theories directly... I recall how, once, the topic of school teachers getting involved with students came up and Paul became very angry and blurted that when he was a teacher, if he had heard of ANY teacher crossing the line with a student he would have reported him to the principal and ensured that his license was taken away. His reaction, which can't be conveyed in one line, here, would have reassured anyone that Paul wasn't a pedophile. As for him being in Thailand in the first place, Paul didn't travel there "for pleasure"; Thailand was his home base. He lived there in a senior community where he could enjoy a high standard of living, with cheap healthcare. Paul had a life of coming in and out of money. I can't recall all the details, but three marriages and one bad business decision, after founding a major software company, left him without the fortune he might have enjoyed had things worked out differently. In any case, apparently, it's a destination for retirees, just like Panama or Belize. BTW...Paul lived in Belize, too, for many years, building resorts, but again, I don't remember how it all crumbled; I only remember feeling like it was quite unfortunate.

But I'm sure you're thinking about "how he was found" and what that implies. So, despite being an eccentric academic, Paul was also very open sexually. I not at all happy to expose anyone's intimacies, but I have to address them since sex is at the center of the controversy. So, here it is...

Paul saw everything as an experiment--even life itself. He even wrote a book--that didn't get published, but I read the manuscript--about how he could prove, through a thought experiment, that there was no consciousness/life after death. Right or wrong, he wrote an 80,000 word thesis on proving that when you're gone you're gone. He approached sex in much the same way. He spoke about it in a completely detached, academic way, yet experimented with it because of the enjoyment "the big O" brings. He was all about finding ways to heighten and prolong the experience (seems reasonable!).

Another truth is, yes, he willingly took meth. He even wrote a book about how to take meth properly to achieve whatever effect. I never read it, and don't care to, but the book came close to being produced. So, yes, Paul likely administered the meth, found in his system, to himself, and he likely tried to heighten the effect with an autoerotic stunt (not the first to go that way), but guaranteed, no children would have ever been in the picture--not that day, not any other day.

The article about his death also displays his last work of fiction: Suicide Inc. I read it when it was still a rough draft and, while it's erotic fiction and strange as hell, you can mine two significant points from it: one, that Paul's default ideal sexual partner is a mature, intelligent, sophisticated woman; the other is that it reveals the level of sexual game-play that Paul was open to. I don't mean the murders; the murders are the vehicle that bring all the characters together to engage in the various sensual play, from almost normal sex, to off-beat or underground scenes.

But as diverse as his PhDs, Paul had many fascinations and he wrote every kind of book, from non-fiction (academic books), to fiction, to one pre-teen novel. Among his other fiction was Flight Of The Marbles, a completely mainstream story about factual marble statues taken in a heist, in Europe. His pre-teen book, Tesseract House, didn't make it to print in the 70's when it should have, but we attempted, briefly, to revitalize it by bringing it into the modern era. I think technology has moved too far beyond the book to make it work today, but I feel that it missed its calling, having a compelling eerie feel, along with elements of time-travel and parallel worlds.

Paul's manner, whether affected by Aspergers or something other, affected his relationships (I mentioned the three wives and the Sheldon Cooper thing...), but he valued his relationships very much, even if they were based on argumentation. There were many times when I opened my e-mail to find a letter from Paul that he wanted my feedback on before he sent it to some business person. I remember, my response was often: "I know you want to say that, Paul--I know you wanna, but don't do it! Do not do it". And he would always say: "I know you're right. You always set me straight"...right before he sent it off anyway.

I remember how he got himself on the shit-list with Editors & Predators, first because he wasn't meant to be "an agent" as much as an editor, and despite good intentions, one of his clients took him to task. However, the relationship with E & P really went south when Paul told a good friend of the president of E&P to f-off. From what I understand, the woman told him that no agent edits for free--that he had to be "a predator"--and Paul eventually responded accordingly. Well, I can assure you, 100%, he did edit writer's work for free. He enjoyed teaching, and he enjoyed the contact with people all over the world, and that is why he did it.

As for the two weeks of togetherness that I mentioned earlier... I'm not even sure how it all went down, but one day I was informed that Paul was going to visit me, in Canada. Not only that but we were going to meet and potentially stay with a family  who would be vacationing at a resort one hour away from my house. The father in that family was another good friend of Paul's, kind of like me--someone who helped Paul, with the book agency, but more in a technical capacity. As it turned out, Paul, the friend, and the friends wife and three kids got along great. We spent a week together, at a resort. I learned to play board games again and I watched Paul become an amazing "grandfather figure" to the three kids. I will always remember that time fondly. A funny aside to that story... I drove Paul to the resort in my Mini Cooper. He literally talked, non-stop, all the way there until my car windows fogged up. When we arrived at the resort (before the family), we sat at a coffee table where he used every scrap of paper around to show me how he figured out how he figured out how to land the Apollo in a lunar mascon and how he got the astronauts off the moon with barely enough fuel. I was sitting on a couch, staring at a table completely covered in parabolas and equations. The talking lasted throughout every day, until late at night, resumed at the crack of dawn, and continued in that cycle for the entire two week stay.

In the final moments of Paul's visit, in my driveway, I watched as Paul insisted to the somewhat resistant-looking Airporter taxi driver that he had to sit in the front or he would get motion sickness. So, after a final wave to me, I could see Paul launching into a story and all I could think was: "Whoohooo! Your problem now, buddy...!" 

A final few thoughts... I wonder if Paul found himself to be wrong--finding that there is consciousness after death--and if  so, I hope he felt he left enough of a mark on earth. I know, if he could have had his way, he would have had his brain transplanted into a new body so he could live forever, but since that didn't happen. I hope he is at peace.

He did have friends, though. He had a best friend in England who he spoke to every single day, and it was this friend who reached out to me after he stopped hearing from Paul, very suddenly, I believe in April 2012. I may have taken Paul's place as "the friend" in the weeks and months following Paul's death. I also witnessed the decline of this friend's health and we fell out of contact in the summer of 2016.

I may have said to little or too much; I hope not the latter, but I just felt it necessary to defend the name of someone who can no longer do it himself--and although the government conspiracy theory is not an attack on Paul, quite the opposite, I can say, with confidence, that it wasn't that either.

Paul, R.I.P.








Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Tina's #randomwritingtweet #7 - Choosing Characters' Names

Talk about opening a can of worms... 

Choosing a name for your characters can be one of the most daunting tasks when your writing fiction...at least once you are aware of the potential for clangers if you choose a name all willy-nilly--perhaps only because you heard it somewhere and liked it.

This is old news to many, so this edition of "Tina's #randomwritingtweet" is for the new writer, or the writer who has never thought about genealogy or the intricacies of it.

So, you're writing about your character; you're character has an undiluted Scottish lineage--he even speaks Gaelic--because you thought that would be cool, but you names him Ezra, because you loved it in Ray Donovan, or his last name is Cohen, because you thought you'd honour Leonard, and you love his music/poetry. 

Right. So, now, you had better explain the Hebrew contribution to this Scottish guy's family tree!

When choosing any name, there are variables, of course. Did a band of "X" settle in that country at one time in history? What time period are we in? Does the last name, race, religion even matter to the story? It does...if you made a point of telling the reader that someone's lineage is pure--a rare claim for most people, especially nowadays, so if you say it, follow through. It matters, as well, if you just married two characters whose families have been feuding for three-hundred years. They might well get married, but you had better mention the tension of at least some family members--or paint it red either through controversy or humour.

When it comes to first names, in the past few decades, parents have become (relatively) unconcerned with name origin, or the origin is looked up primarily out of interest. Names are often chosen based on pop culture, and spellings changed in an effort to make the child's name unique. Tradition is sometimes, but not typically, as important as it used to be. (I said often, not always). However, it is always worthwhile to vet the names you choose to be sure that your choice does not conflict with your intentions. The last thing you want to do is make a fatal error and lose credibility with your educated readers.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Tina's #randomwritingtweet #6 - Using "Suddenly"

After introducing the topic, I feel like saying any more is superfluous. I can sense you already smiling and nodding, but just in case...

I write the word "suddenly" and I'm suddenly thrown back to grade school. Why is that? It is a word, after all. It might be because many writers overuse it, and when they do, it's redundant. Let's have a look.

Suddenly, Jim jumped up and startled everyone.

Do you see it? Of course this happened suddenly. Someone jumping up--assuming all was calm before this--is inherently "a sudden act". Also, since everyone was startled, it also suggests that Jim's action was sudden.

I'd also like to point out that writers tend to use "suddenly", among other such words, as a way to ease into a sentence. Sometimes, a writer will use it, unwittingly, in an attempt to improve the rhythm or flow of the text. This is a valid concern, but if you are aware of an issue with the rhythm, flow, cadence, beats per sentence (writers describe it in various ways), then don't simply default to "suddenly"; try to make each words count, even if it means you have to rewrite the sentence or paragraph.

Happy Writing!

T.A.

Tina's #randomwritingtweet #5 - Perfect Characters

Lead TV and movie actors are typically attractive. Even if the role calls for them to look like they were dragged through the mud, underneath it all, you will still detect their better attributes. Well, you are in charge of picking the cast for your book and, guess what...you will most likely have some good-looking characters.

Nothing wrong with that. The problem sets in when you paint them as so darn perfect that you've turned your character into a cliche. You don't want to sound cliche, and you don't want to lose credibility as a writer. Not only that, but the accidentally-perfect character is boring. One of the key ingredients to making a reader connect with your work is offering them characters that they can connect with. This is done in a variety of ways, and one is by revealing some vulnerability in your character. Perhaps your character doesn't even see himself/herself as good-looking. Perhaps the character has a scar that can't be missed. Perhaps the character is so insecure that they won't let anyone see them unless they have "fresh from the salon hair, name-brand clothes on, and every aspect of their face has been made-up, shaven, trimmed etc until they are virtually unreal. Or...is your book sci-fi? Is he or she actually a robot and nobody knows this yet?

We will never stop writing beautiful characters...not me...not you, but remember to make them three dimensional. Reveal their flaws, even if not physical, make them vulnerable to something--even the evil, hot-looking characters--and allow the reader to believe in your characters.

T.A.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tina's #randomwritingtweet #4 - Keep Characters In Check

The door opened. His ex stood in the doorway, arms crossed, and he jumped to his feet. "You make me want to barf."

So, there may not be anything wrong with the sentence above...if this sounds like something your guy would say.

Fiction writing can be easier than real life. You can make up worlds, people, events, dictate what people will do and how they will react, or can you? The answer is: to a point. 

In writing fiction, you are at liberty to create a character, give them a dialect, a personality, a look, a history, and a purpose, but once you have done so, you cannot deviate from your creation all willy-nilly. 

If you character is calm, uses words sparingly, and only uses pretentious language when he does use words, then follow through--whatever he is faced with. You may have witnessed a scene in your real life, and you might be compelled to immortalize the scene in your book, but this isn't your diary, this isn't your moment; it is your character's moment and you have to stay true to the personality you created.

With that said, there are times when you can legitimately let your character act "out of character". This, can be a smart, skillful, tool used by the author. There might be a time where your character might say or do something completely out of character--for impact. The character might have "had it", he might be at a turning point, or he might be out to rattle another character--making his reaction a tool of the character AND a tool of the author.

When writing, always ask yourself: is this something I would say, or does it just seem like a cool reaction, or would this character actually do/say this? Make sure you're staying true to your character, unless it is, as mentioned above, a deliberate decision on both your character's and your part for some purposeful effect.

T.A.
Tina's #RandomWritingTweet #3 - Your Author's Voice...Keep Out

You want to do it. I know you wanna--but don't!

I will start by saying that there are articles and novels, written and yet to be written, in which the author has a strong voice, or the author is a legitimate character who makes what you're reading that much better, but...

There are many more examples of writing where the author set out to tell the story ONLY through the perspective of their main character, or through a few characters, but not through himself/herself. When it happens, it jars the reader and jeopardizes the relationship you've created with your reader...now good luck.

I've seen it a number of times, in editing for others, which inspired me to write this in my blog. You're reading along, no sign of the author, until *wham!* Suddenly, the author is lecturing you about something they know or feel--one of the worst cases of inappropriate author voice! 

A more subtle infraction is where the author sliiiiides in a little remark that just doesn't fit. You've done such a good job with your characterization that your reader knows that the character isn't feeling this, or thinking it--or there is no way the character can even know the truth about what the author is reacting to.

In summary, it is a legitimate technique to have the author's voice in the forefront, but if this is the chosen style, then it must be consistent throughout the book; it must be done purposefully and skillfully. However, some authors slip up and insert their own voice without thinking--often due to their particular passionate stance on something being perceived by the character, or the need to be heard in a self-gratifying act of carelessness.

As the author, choose a style and stick with it because you don't want to lose credibility with your readers.

T.A.


Tina's #RandomWritingTweet #2 - Annoying Waste Words

We all do it when we talk. We throw in words like "really", "just", "very" and my favourite..."actually".

But what do these words [really] add to what you're saying? In most cases, nothing. It's [actually] not that big of a deal in speech, but when you do it in writing--especially in fiction writing--for those words to be seared onto the page and copied hundreds, maybe thousands of times, it is a big deal. I know that no author sets out to weaken their writing but waste words will do it.

Have a look at the examples in my text, above. I could have used the "really" and the "actually" in those square brackets, but if I had left those words out, does the sentence suffer? No.

Tight, effective writing, does not allow for waste words. Granted, there are times when really/just/actually/very do change the meaning of what you are trying to say, or affect the cadence, or the word is being used in dialogue, which is fine as this is how people talk, but keeping these words to a minimum--and I mean to a minimum--is necessary if you are planning to submit your work to a traditional publisher, or a legitimate agency, or you simply want to your writing to be strong.

I actually, just really care very much myself. :D