December 30, 2014

Quick Tip On Writing A Thriller

I'm sure 99.99% of us have heard of James Bond. Well, famed 007 agent creator Ian Fleming wrote an essay in 1963 on how to write thrillers, including the following tip:

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn't enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

As a bonus, here is another quick tip: 
[N]ever correct anything and never go back to what [you] have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where [you] have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? ... If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following [Fleming's] formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren't disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks."

So keep your eyes peeled and your ears unplugged for any information or tidbit you might want to swipe and place into your own writing!

For more tips from Ian Fleming, refer to MI6

December 23, 2014

Les Poissonnnades Or How An 18th Century French Cinderella Was Seen By Her Rivals (And The Regular Populace)

What a mouthful of a title, eh? I apologize for not finding anything more pithy (blame it on my inherent laziness). OK, now...

I am talking today about Madame de Pompadour. But let not the noble name fool you, this lady's maiden name was Poisson.

Is anyone else reminded of The Little Mermaid?

Can anyone tell I've been on a Disney spree lately?

Anyway, Madame de Pompadour is better known for being THE mistress of none other than the King of France, Louis XV. Considering that she got to that exalted position after having been born the (illegitimate) daughter of a financier exiled for fraud, I must say I'm really impressed at her (ahem) dedication, but also her intelligence. Because the more one rises in society's ranks, the more enemies one makes. So if your past isn't immaculate-conception clean, they're going to find something to criticize you about (and even then, you're not safe). Add to that mix the fact that the general population's lost complete faith in the royalty and anyone doing business with it (even if it involves opening your legs for them), and you've got yourself a fine target stuck to your forehead. 
In that essence, many a song deriding her was created and sung in Paris in those days, which came to be known as the Poissonnades

Here is a (most of a) song that targets Madame de Pompadour and her low birth and physical attractions:

Les grands seigneurs s'avilissent,
The great lords are making themselves vile
Les financiers s'enrichisent,
The financiers are making themselves rich,
Tous les Poissons s'agrandissent.
All the Fish are growing fatter.
C'est le règne des vauriens.
It is the reign of the good-for-nothings.
On épuise la finance
The state's finances are being drained
En bâtiments, en dépense.
By construction, by expenditures.
Le Roi ne met ordre à rien, rien rien.
The King does not put into order a thing, thing, thing.

Une petite bourgeoise
A little bourgeoise
Elevée à la grivoise,
Raised indecently,
Mesurant tout à sa toise,
Judges everything by her own measure,
Fait de la cour un taudis;
Turns the court into a slum;
Le Roi malgré son scrupule,
The King, despite his scruples,
Pour elle froidement brûle,
Feebly burns for her,
Cette flamme ridicule
That ridiculous flame
Excite dans tout Paris ris, ris, ris.
Makes all of Paris laugh, laugh, laugh.                     

Cette catin subalterne
That lowly slut
Insolemment le gouverne
Governs him insolently
Et c'est elle qui décerne
And she is the one who awards [with top positions]
Les hommes à prix d'argent.
The men...for a price.
Devant l'idole tout plie.
Before this idol everyone bends [the knee].
Le courtisan s'humilie,
The courtier humiliates himself.
Il subit cette infamie,
He submits to this infamy.
Et n'est que plus indigent, gent, gent.
And yet is even more indigent, gent, gent.

La contenance éventée,
A stale composure,
La peau jaune et truitée,
The skin yellow and speckled,
Et chaque dent tachetée,
And all her teeth stained,
Les yeux fades, le col long,
Her eyes insipid, her neck elongated,
Sans esprit, sans caractère,
Without with, without character,
L'âme vile et mercernaire,
The spirit vile and mercenary,
Le propos d'une commère,
Her talk that of a village gossip,
Tout est bas chez la Poisson, son, son.
Everything is lowly with the Fish, ish, ish.

Si dans les beautés choisies,
If among the chosen beauties,
Elle était des plus jolies,
She were one of the prettiest,
On pardonne les folies
One pardons the follies
Quand l'objet est un bijou.
When the object is a treasure.
Mais pour si mince figure,
But for so inconsequential a figure,
Et si sotte créature,
And so silly a creature,
S'attirer tant de murmure,
To attract such ill words,
Chancun pense le roi f, f, f. [fou, fou, fou, [ou] fout, fout, fout]
Everyone thinks the king mad, mad, mad.

~Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 13709, ff 29-30 and 71.

I don't know what you think, but I would probably like to get to know the one who engendered such jealousy (if only going back in time would be a riskless and possible venture...), especially considering she also loved the arts, fashion, architecture, and literature, and was the patron of many a great name (Voltaire, the , while also getting not only herself but the rest of her family ennobled. In fact, she was such an amazing woman that, despite ceasing to be the king's lover after 1750, the two remained good friends.

For the rest of the song and many others: Harvard website
Wiki bio
Madame de Pompadour via paintings at the National Gallery
More on the history of the times and the songs sung against Madame de Pompadour via the Guardian

December 16, 2014

Humanity's Tipping Point

I've just finished reading a(nother) fantasy book--Midnighters #3: Blue Noon--where one of the characters, Rex, considers the potential end of the world. For humans at least:

In the darkling part of his mind, Rex thought for a moment that perhaps this wasn't such a bad thing. Without predators to cull the herd, humanity had spread across the earth unchecked, crowding the planet beyond its resources, prideful and arrogant.
Maybe one night a year of being hunted would do them good.

Though one night a year may not seem like a lot, in this book it equates to thousands of deaths, if not millions. Granted, out of 7+ billion people, that's a pretty small number, but still.

Anyway, I know that end-of-world stories, or at least end-of-humanity stories have been quite popular lately (with zombies only being one aspect of them), and I think they do bring up an interesting point: considering we're at the top of the food chain (with nothing to cull our population growth), then how long can we continue on this path before we've outgrown our environment?

Population growth is currently at 1.14% per year. Granted, the rate has supposedly started to decline again (thanks to developed countries), but just over the 20th century the world population grew 264%, from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. Now that's not chump change.

So, since as Harvard University sociobiologist put it, "[t]he constraints of the biosphere are fixed," how many humans can our little Earth sustain? About 9 to 10 billion (according to some scientists). That's not much higher than our current level and, according to predictions, is a number that should be hit between 2040 and 2062. So in 25 to 47 years. Or relatively soon and, in most people's case, our lifetime.

Exciting news, isn't it?

So what are we to expect then? Short water supply (better start stocking up on those bottles!), short food supply (makes us feel bad about wasting 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year, doesn't it?), To make the picture a little bleaker, the 10 billion sustainability mark is assuming everyone becomes a grass-eater (vegans FTW!), so a more realistic picture would bring down that mark... Although, considering the current specie extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate (aka background extinction rate: rate of extinction without human involvement), that means between 200-2,000 (on the low end) or 10,000 to 100,000 (on the higher end) species are becoming extinct, I have a feeling this constrains our biosphere parameters even further. Robot bees just aren't going to be enough to make a difference...

So all you zombie/apocalypse fan boys and girls there might get to experience survival scenarios (who knows how people would react in such a world?). As for everyone else, well, let's hope we figure something out, and soon. (I'm totally for colonizing Mars, btw!)

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my time with my family and friends that much more and appreciate my Christmas dinner fully (with no wastage!).

UPDATE - 2015.01.22:
Just read this article about humanity tipping the earth's ecological and weather patterns into unsafe zones, with already two large "dead zones" reported, and more to come if we keep up with our current activities (especially the production of the chemicals phosphorus and nitrogen). The scientists in charge of the study stated that we've hit 4 out of the 9 "safe operating space" boundaries, getting closer and closer to the point of no return where life won't be as friendly as it has been up until now...

Live Science - How Many People Can Earth Support?
World Population Clock (with amazing charts!)
UNEP - Food Waste Facts
WWF - How Many Species Are We Losing?
Center For Biological Diversity - The Extinction Crisis

December 9, 2014

It's All About The Numbers

Here's an interesting factoid for you I just found out:

Traditionally published books come out on Tuesdays because that's when the bestseller week starts.

Now back in 2012, it's been postulated that it took 20,000 sold copies of a book before one could potentially think about hitting a bestsellers' list. But that's not all--what is important, is also the velocity of those sales. Therefore, the traditional publishing industry will think a book that sells 20,000 copies in one week then never sells another copy again is a better book (think best seller) than one that sells 1,000 copies per week for 20 weeks, even if it keeps selling 1,000 copies/week for 20 years!

And in these times where all big publishing houses are on or owned by companies on a Stock Exchange where profits are supposed to increase every year (never mind being happy with simply being profitable every year), best seller lists can make or brake many a great/fun/[insert cool adjective here] author.

Anyway, all this to show that it's more of a numbers game than one of true talent (though talent could help tip the scales in your favor).

Really great and detailed article by Kristin Kathryn Rusch.

December 2, 2014

Map Of The Land Of Tenderness

Penelope and her suitors by John William Waterhouse
Hear, hear!

Of the land of Tenderness, a magical land where amazing cities such as those of Sensibility, of Constant Friendship, Kindness and Sincerity can make a man rich! 

To reach this land, a man must cross the Dangerous Sea, cross the River of Gratitude, and continue south parallel to the Inclination River.

 But be wary not to tarry in such towns as those of Complaisance, Negligence, or even Perfidy, for those are towns filled with evil and brigands! Drift too far East and you may get yourself lost around the banks of the Lake of Indifference.

Though the obstacles be great, the rewards are worth the risk, and every man (and woman alike) should tempt the adventure!

OK, so technically this 17th c. map (Carte de Tendre) shows three ways for an adventurer to gain a lady's affections, and all start in the Town of New Friendship, then the wooer may proceed north:

1. via the River Inclination (the fastest route) to Tenderness Upon Inclination;
2. via the towns of Love Letters, Little Trinkets, and many others to end at Tenderness Upon Esteem; or
3. via  the towns of Patience, Faithfulness and Constant Attention to end at the town of Tenderness Upon Gratitude.

Straying from these routes leads one either towards the Lake of Indifference, or the Sea of Enmity. And going beyond those three Cities of Tenderness one reaches then the town of Passion, on the edges of the Sea of Danger, beyond which lie unknown lands...

Either way, there is no more enchanting land than the land of Tenderness that has made every single human being dream...


November 27, 2014

What Turducken? How The Romans Would Beat Us At Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that I've slowly warmed up to in the later years. Having grown up in Belgium, we never celebrated it, so it never held much meaning to me.

However, I was lucky enough to get invited to a friend's family Thanksgiving dinner parties a few times, and got to witness (and taste) a most amazing feat in culinary skills: the turducken.

For those of you who, like me, didn't grow up in the U.S., a turducken is a chicken, inside a duck,
inside a turkey! Triple bird in one.

And really, when I say amazing, I mean AMAZING! And I know, from all the tales that were told later that day, that the skills required were just short of those of Dr. Frankenstein when he put his monster together.

Now let's go back in time a little bit. As in a few centuries, during the Roman era. Wanna know what some of 'em rich folks cooked up once in a while, apart from making tasty snacks out of rotten fish, that is?


That's right. It's a chicken, inside a duck, inside a goose, inside a pig, inside a cow!

So who's up to the challenge for this Thanksgiving dinner?

Romans and their rich foods
Rotten Romans

November 25, 2014

A Few Notes On Progress

One of the (many) things that has (unfortunately) slowed down my progress with Rise of the Fey is my desire to write better than I did in my first book, and my fear of failing to do so.

But then I try to remember that one thing I've always enjoyed when watching shows or reading comics/manga is seeing the progress in the art over time. Hopefully, people will be able to see that same progress with my work as well...

Here are a few examples:

Mickey Mouse at his very beginning (and I believe I spot a Minnie as well!)
The Simpson family may not have aged over the years, but their style has.
Here is Snoopy over the years--he never lost his smile!

The original Smurf drawing (their hats have gotten a little rounder over time).
I hope this inspires you to keep working towards your goals and not give up, for you see, no one starts "perfect." :)

November 18, 2014

Get Ready To Show Your Pearly Whites!

As the holidays are right around the corner (yay, my favorite season!), I know someone in the family's bound to whip that camera out and get snap-happy. Which means more pictures that are bound to capture my ever-awkwardness on (digital) film for all posterity to see. Thankfully, I now have this dandy little go-to chart to emulate, courtesy of all the pro-selfie Koreans out there, which I thought I'd share with anyone else who's cursed as I am :)


November 12, 2014

History Of A French Expression's Descent Into English

Living in the States for a number of years, I really had a lot of fun listening to how Americans born and bred liked to make English words sound French (Target, for instance, is often pronounced Tarjay)--a blatant exception must be made for the word "croissant"--or butchering a French expression to make a brand new one in English.

This has been most blatant with the word bourge, which is an abbreviation of the word bourgeois and is used to describe those who are posh, materialistic and oftentimes pretentious. Of course, the French "r" is quite hard for most foreigners to pronounce, so the expression turned into bouge (which technically means "move"). Then, the latter not sounding cool enough, they switched it to bouge-y which, if you want to make it look French, becomes bougie.

Bougie, however, means candle in French, so whenever I hear Americans* say bougie to talk about posh people, I can't help but laugh.

By the way, if anyone hasn't seen Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière, I seriously recommend it!

*I can only vouch for people in the States as I haven't heard (probably because I haven't spent any time with) British, Australian or other native English-speaking peeps use it.

November 11, 2014

Some Rules On Being A Good King

I am currently reading The Well of Ascension: Book Two of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (I am really liking this trilogy so far, if anyone's interested in fantasy). In it, one of the main characters has to learn to become a king, and his newly, self-appointed trainer tells him the following*:

"Don't apologize unless you really mean it. And don't make excuses. You don't need them. A leader is often judged by how well he bears responsibility. As king, everything that happens in your kingdom--regardless of who commits the act--is your fault. You are even responsible for unavoidable events such as earthquakes or storms. Or armies. It is your responsibility to deal with these things, and if something goes wrong, it is your fault. You simply have to accept this. Guilt [however] does not become a king. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself. You have to feel confident that your actions are the best. You have to know that no matter how bad things get, they would be worse without you. When disaster occurs, you take responsibility, but you don't wallow or mope. You aren't allowed that luxury; guilt is for lesser men. You simple need to do what is expected. [That is,] to make everything better. [And if you fail,] then you accept responsibility, and make everything better on the second try. [And if you can't make yourself better on the second try,] you remove yourself from the position."

Though this is coming straight out of a fantasy book, a genre deemed by many not serious, I still think this is actually very good advice. I wish more politicians, not just kings, would follow this advice. Unfortunately, I feel that in our day and age, scapegoating and refusing responsibility is too common a currency.

Any thoughts on that?

*the words are taken verbatim from the book, but I've removed the whole back-and-forth going on between Elend, the newly-minted king, and Tindwyl, his trainer, for ease of reading.

November 4, 2014

Art And Critics

I'm reading a short piece, Art Is a Journey, written by Bob Eggleton, an artist.

In it, Eggleton talks about fame and artists' desire to achieve it. In particular, Eggleton warns artists against letting any positive or negative criticism get to their heads. Because, really, what does such critique mean?

He then goes on to give an example:

Salvador Dali did his epic painting Persistence of Memory (the one with the melting clock) and critics praised this as some life-changing, almost existential, self-defining work of inner truth. In reality, his entire inspiration was from...Camembert cheese. That was it. It did not detract at all from this fine work, but some people who wanted to read something more into it felt betrayed.

This reminds me of a French lesson back in high school when my teacher, Mr. Hayet, talked about Rimbaud having written a poem which critics of the time lauded as being quite deep and meaningful, and Rimbaud enjoyed listening in on classes where they would dissect and analyze the poem because, he later admitted, he wrote it without attaching any meaning behind it. (Unfortunately, I don't remember which poem was in question :( ).

Eggleton concludes his piece with this advice:

[B]e the best artist you can be; don't worry about being the best there is. You'll be a lot happier in the long run. Later on, history will judge your work to be the work of some genius--or not. Then again, it could all be the Camembert cheese.

I think this is great advice for life in general as well!

October 28, 2014

Krakatoa, The Island Volcano

OK, I know there are plenty of islands out there that have been formed by volcanoes (just look at Hawaii for one prime example). So what's so special about Krakatoa?

How about being one of the loudest belchers in the world?

Fine, it's not like I've orchestrated a contest between volcanoes to see who could make the loudest, angriest sound. But in this instance, someone did record how strong the explosion one. And by someone, I mean many people...

August 1883: Krakatoa explodes in a series of violent blasts, bringing down tens of thousands of humans and countless animals. Its lava extended to neighboring islands, destroying all in its passage like a voracious monster. The eruptions were so loud one was heard 4800 km away, across the Indian Ocean to eastern Africa (a distance which took the sound wave approx. 4 hours to travel), while others were heard off the coasts of Australia and Southeast Asia.

Locally, the shock waves blasted windows apart and shook every house in a 160 km radius, and rendered many people permanently deaf. These shock waves were recorded all around the world while traveling 7 times around the Earth before they finally died down.

But you know what the scary part about all this is (if this wasn't scary enough)? Krakatoa isn't a supervolcano...

Historical eruption sounds

October 26, 2014


"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."
Walter E. Disney

October 21, 2014

Cardinal Points - Behind The Names

I assume that many of you already know the origin of the weekdays (at least in English; with, for example, Thursday standing for the day of Thor, Monday for the day of the Moon, Wednesday for Woden's day or Odin's day, etc.).

Well, turns out that even the cardinal points on a compass are named after mythical creatures of Norse legends. That's right!

Say hello to Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Westri, strong dwarves who were bid by the gods to support the heavenly vault (which, incidentally, is actually the skull of the first evil giant, its brains forming the clouds) upon their shoulders.

I can understand now why one of the greatest fears of people from Norse and other neighboring countries was that the sky would fall on their head!

I'll let you figure out which stands for what ;-)

October 14, 2014

Easy Tip For Immediately Writing Better

Proust manuscript for A l'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs
A teacher once said it was interesting to have Proust, known to suffer from
asthma, write sentences that were pages long.
In my years working in the business world, I've had my share of editing technical papers, letters,

reports and such. One thing that caught my attention is that, the more important a person believes he/she is, the more likely that person is to want to impress others by showing off.

This showing off usually entails, when writing, long words, technical jargon, and run-on sentences a la Proust (and I admit that I too have been guilty on many occasions of the latter).

And here's where my tip comes in:

Don't be afraid to write shorter sentences.

They don't make you sound juvenile or, horror of horrors, dumb. In fact, quite the opposite: They allow you to convey your thoughts clearly and concisely, which the reader will always appreciate more than the head scratching and "huh?" that usually accompany never-ending descriptions.

That's it. Seriously! If you do just that, your writing will already greatly improve.

This is tip is mostly for those who aren't going for poetical lyricism, of course, though one doesn't preclude the other.

October 9, 2014

Writers: Be As The Tortoise, Not The Hare

I just read an interesting interview of Amélie Nothomb in Le Nouvel Observateur in honor of her latest publication Pétronille.

In the interview, the Belgian author is asked whether she is scared of running dry of ideas, to which she answers the following (translated from French)--please note she associates the process of creating a book to that of creating a baby:

It is true that I cannot stand not writing. I'm at my 80th novel! I always make it a point to start my new pregnancy the day following the birthing of the previous [novel]. It is the only thing that distinguishes me from other authors who, I believe, take some time off between two books.

I do not know how they do it, for the most difficult thing to do in this business is to set yourself to work again. One should now allow the the wound to scar over. If it closes up, there is no way to make it bleed again. And as it is a pleasurable hemorrhage which gives me great enjoyment, I don't allow myself any time off.

Though I believe there are more writers out there who subscribe to her way of thinking, I think Nothomb hits the nail on the head, at least for myself: I have found it extremely hard to get the ball rolling again once I let myself or outside events stop me in my writerly tracks.

I therefore will do my best as of today not to let anything break my stride as I feel each time I have done so I've had to relearn (parts of) my craft and, sometimes, even my own stories and characters (which, trust me, is a much more painful process than one might think)!

So on that note, all I've got to say to you is: To infinity and beyond!

October 7, 2014


I like to sometimes compare the movie credits for, say, an earlier Disney movie like Robin Hood, to the ones found at the end of, say the latest Marvel movie and am always amazed at how long they've gotten over the years.

And I must say, it's amazing how much the industry's grown since then, especially in terms of visual effects (VFX). That is because it's this is a very labor-intensive, time-consuming industry. 

And one can't deny how much work goes into creating such astounding visuals, as can be seen here in the popular show du jour Game of Thrones:

The crazy part is that, despite how in demand VFX companies are, they also operate on a rather low profit margin (what with all the competition out there). In fact, Rhythm 'N Hues Studios who did the visual effects for Life of Pi and won an Oscar for their work, went bankrupt...11 days before receiving it!

Anyway, props to all of them for all the amazing work they do--as someone who's dabbled a little in computer programming and animation, I've learned to appreciate all of their hard work (even if it's for something really small)!

Additional Sources:
Effects Corner
Rhythm 'N Hues Studios on what went wrong

October 2, 2014

What Is True Love?

In Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice (a mash-up of Shakespeare's Othello, King Lear, the Merchant of Venice among others), Othello finds himself with the Fool who's just lost his love. Following, is the discussion the two have about love and what it is...

Othello (aka The Moor): "I know love, fool. Love may not be mine, but I know it."
The Fool: "You lie."
Othello: "When a woman looks upon one's scars with wonder, and sees not the glory of battles won, but sheds tears for the pain of injury suffered, then is love born. When she pities a man's history and wishes away his past troubles with present comforts, then is love awakened. When that which makes a warrior hard is met with beauty offered most tender, then he can find love."
The Fool: "She sees past your handsome exterior to the dark, twisted broken beast that your years have made of you--the libidinous little creature that you are at heart. When she takes you not in spite of, but because you are the cheeky monkey, that is love?"

Of course, Miracle Max in the Princess Bride might have a different take on it:

"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world, except for a nice MLT--mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean. and the tomato is ripe. They're so perky, I love that!

What do you think it is?

By the way:
There's a great review of the book of Venice done in Sonnet fashion here.
And found out about the book on Quora first.