Kevin Spacey: “The audience has spoken. They want stories. They’re dying for them.”

As everyone knows, time flies when you’re having fun. And also when you’re writing a novel (which can sometimes be fun as well). So this video from 2013 of Kevin Spacey giving a speech about the importance of good storytelling has now become an “oldie but a goodie”. It recently popped back into my mind because I finished watching the third season of House of Cards on Netflix, in which Spacey stars as Machiavellian US president Frank Underwood. That, by the way, is a fantastic name for his character. He seems frank, while Underwood is a white-bread Anglo-Saxon surname that matches Frank’s down-home public persona. But on a subconscious level, the “underwood” is a dark place where things crawl, scuttle and lurk. This is the seedy underbelly of Frank’s political trajectory – the rotten roots of a gnarled tree that he and his wife Claire have watered with murder, deceit, sex, and drugs. Come to think of it, House of Cards is basically a Shakespearean supervillain tag team featuring Richard III and Lady MacBeth.


Click on the photo to hear about storytelling, Spacey-style.

All this to say, storytelling is the currency of great entertainment, whether it appears on the small screen(s), big screen or the pages of a book. Just as television series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards are now arguably more artistically and culturally relevant than motion pictures, multi-novel book series have also increased in readership, relevance, and publishing income over recent years. Was the trend started by Harry Potter or the Twilight series? In Young Adult fiction, series have certainly become the norm, with subject matter varying from the Hunger Games to Mara Dyer and pretty much everything in-between.

The opportunity for an author is to do what Kevin Spacey describes in his speech: weave a storytelling web over literally years that features characters who change, grow, love, and sometimes unexpectedly die, leaving fangirls and boys wringing their hands and cursing the authors (all the while secretly loving the epic level of emotion, or as the parlance has it, the “feels”).

If done badly, a series of YA books becomes nothing more than a constant re-hashing of the storyline from book one. That’s just lazy. It means the author realized he or she had a cash cow and then milked it dry. The other option is to create a fictional world then keep expanding it in every direction. That’s keeping the cow and building a farm around it. And that’s what keeps readers coming b

Van Gogh’s fluid dynamics

Vincent Van Gogh was both a tragic failure and and a talented success. Unrecognized and penniless in his own lifetime, his paintings are now among the most appreciated and valuable in the entire art world. Although he isn’t a character in my YA novel Starley’s Rust, he and his art certainly feature strongly for reasons that are too spoilerish to go into here. Of course I’m far from being the first writer to be inspired by Van Gogh. There’s Don McLean’s hauntingly beautiful Vincent, a song that I’ve loved since I was a child. British sci-fi series Doctor Who (my favourite TV show of all time) also featured Van Gogh in a 2010 episode written by the great Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of classics such as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones, and Love Actually. The Doctor brings the real-life Vincent forward in time to a Paris museum in this tear-jerking scene with Bill Nighy (Van Gogh is superbly acted by Tony Curran).

In Starley’s Rust, the mysterious title character Starley explains that Vincent, “was always searching for a way to express visually what he could see in his mind.” Coincidentally, I recently came across a TED Ed video on YouTube that shows just how incredible Van Gogh’s vision of the world actually was. Fluid dynamics is an immensely complex field of mechanics. Its mathematical formulas attempt to describe and predict the flow of liquids and gases.

But sometimes art does a better job.

Van Gogh

The short video The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” shows how the artist captured this most difficult of subjects. The video blurb explains:

Physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically, we can use art to depict the way it looks. Natalya St. Clair illustrates how Van Gogh captured this deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work.

As the video narrator says, “…in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind…”

I had no idea about any of this when I wrote the following passage in Starley’s Rust. Near the end of the book, our hero Kari Marriner goes on Wikipedia to research Vincent’s life and work:

I clicked back to the main page, then on the Starry Night picture. It was the view from Van Gogh’s room in a mental institution. The swirls in the sky… the thing that made the painting so beautiful… and that’s when it dawned on me. In fact, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The shimmering web of the Dark Universe that Noon had shown me from the rooftop of the Warrington. It was so similar.”

Okay, so that actually is a little bit spoilerish, but you’ll have to read Starley’s Rust to find out exactly what part Vincent Van Gogh has to play in Kari’s adventure. As for me, I’m going to watch the clouds and stars…

PS – I wrote this last night when it was dark!





Starley’s Rust signed paperback giveaway!

That headline is well worth an exclamation point. Goodreads is giving away ten signed copies of my new urban fantasy novel Starley’s Rust (book 2 of the Embodied trilogy) and to enter all you have to do is click on the image below then follow the instructions. The contest is open until April 8th and it’s a random draw, so good luck!

Starley's Rust Goodreads giveaway


Back from vacation with a new story

In some parts of the world, spring has sprung. In the Dominican Republic, where I visited last week, it even felt like summer, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). And while I was in the Caribbean, it was -30 degrees (-22 F) in Montreal, where I live. That’s quite the contrast! In fact, last month was officially the coldest February on record in Quebec. Lucky me, I thought, as I lay in a beach lounger last Friday, looking up at palm trees while sipping something called a Coco Loco. Then a bird pooped on me. This has happened to me once before (bizarrely, also on vacation; maybe I shouldn’t get out more) and this time I’m happy to say that it was a much smaller bird with a correspondingly smaller payload.

Breath Less cover

What does this have to do with writing? Sometimes unexpected things can fall from the sky and you’re left staring at them thinking, “Well, I guess I have to deal with this now.” When I geared up for the launch of Starley’s Rust in mid-January, I didn’t expect to embark on another work of fiction until I began the as-yet-unnamed conclusion of the Embodied trilogy. Then suddenly, plop! the idea for Breath Less came to me.

Breath Less is a short story for Young Adults. It’s set one sweltering summer sometime in the future, and I guess you’d call it a sci-fi romance. Talaya, a teenage girl, is trying desperately to revive a boy called Adam whom she met the day before and has now passed out in her backyard pool. But things aren’t what they seem…

I decided to publish Breath Less “live” in three sections on Wattpad, and now the last one is online. Maybe I’ll also make an ebook version at some point, but right now I’m keen to know what readers think of it, rather than attempting to sell it.

So if you’re interested to know why a girl who takes her books out for a drive is attracted to a boy who dives into a pool but can’t swim, click on the cover and log in to Wattpad.