Save money on my courses for the rest of this year!

 

To help me get more donations for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event held each year to raise money for adult literacy programs in the Simcoe/Muskoka area, I’m offering a way for anyone planning to take one of my Creative Writing courses any time in 2014 to save some money.

Here’s, quite simply, how it works.

1 – Choose an amount you’d like to donate, from $10 up to $100.

2 – Make the donation at this link.

3 – Once done and the amount is confirmed, email me here and let me know which course (Spring/Summer, or Fall). I will count double the amount you donated toward the Spring/Summer 2014 or Fall 2014 Creative Writing course.

So, just to make that clear:

  • If you donate $10, you’ll save $20 on the course.
  • Donate $50, save $100.
  • Donate $100, save $200.

How can you lose?

Note: The Spring/Summer course starts May 14. The Fall course will start around mid-Sept 2014.

Note: I reserve the right to stop this promotion at any time with no notice. I will, however, honour any donations made to that point.

Books that changed my life: 05 – Rendezvous With Rama

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com

This is the fifth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man
04 – Childhood’s End


Rendezvous With Rama - with its cool die-cut cover in paperback

Rendezvous With Rama – with its cool die-cut cover in paperback

Arthur C. Clarke was now a known entity to me, having read Childhood’s End. Then, shortly after that I discovered Rendezvous With Rama. Now, where I live, a short distance from a casino known as Rama, Rendezvous With Rama would take on a completely different meaning, but with Clarke, this is a book about ideas.

I found Rama to be a much more accessible book than Clarke’s Childhood’s End novel. The characters were straightforward, with no surprises–and stunningly little characterization. Years later, when I went back to reread Rama in preparation for continuing on with the Rama series, this lack of characterization stood out quite strongly. No one will ever read this book to gain an insight into the human condition.

Oh, and those followup Rama novels? Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed? Yeah, they’re terrible. Though, to be fair, I can’t honestly say that about the final one, Rama Revealed, because I gave up halfway through the third one, Garden. The less said about them, the better.

The inside of Rama...and what I first saw when I opened that die-cut cover

The inside of Rama…and what I first saw when I opened that die-cut cover

But that first one, the one that started them…that’s a different story. The basic idea was that an alien spacecraft, a tube 16 kms wide and 50 kms long, slides into our solar system and a team is sent out to explore it. Inside, they find an environment that’s somewhat Earth-like, with breathable air. Then the fun begins. The team explores the ship.

Along the way, they find life…or do they? The beings are more like robot servants, yet there is some biology to them. Clarke refers to them as biots, biological robots.

And then there’s the glimpses into the builders, dubbed the Ramans. They never find an Raman, but they do find a uniform that suggests the basic size and shape of the Ramans. Then there’s the technology of the ship itself. The strangely alien cities, the massive sea that encircles Rama, the three lines of lights that run the length of the ship, the sharks, underwater biots that seem to reclaim any garbage or broken tech, and the propulsion system for Rama, something Clarke referred to as a reactionless drive.

That one alone–the reactionless drive–captured my attention. A system of propulsion where thrust is generated without any momentum exchange. Basically, picking yourself up by your own bootstraps. It completely violated Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

But not here. Not in Clarke’s universe. And I found that endlessly exciting.

Even more, Clarke never ever showed you the Ramans. You never met them, only their products and creativity. And that blew me away.

How did this book change my life?

This book was the one that showed me that an author didn’t necessarily have to reveal everything. Everything I’d read up to this time laid everything out on the table at one point or another. Everything was revealed. I always found out the Great and Terrible Oz was simply a man pulling levers behind a curtain.

But not here. Here, Clarke gave us a story that actually posed more questions than it answered. Who were the Ramans? Why did they build these ships? Were they ever on them? Did they die out? Why did they do everything in threes? Where were they from? Where were the ships going?

Clarke was very content to give us enough to spark our imagination, then sit back and say, “I’ve done enough. You figure it out.” But in a good way.

Clarke taught me that less could be more, especially when it came to story. It’s a lesson I would learn again and again through other novels, movies and in life. But this was the first.

He was the first to not give me all the answers, and make me enjoy that fact.

Unfortunately, in the subsequent books in the series, they did just that, and the reality was so much less than what I’d conjured myself that I had to stop reading. It was a mistake to pull back that curtain. The same feeling I have with the last couple of Thomas Harris Hannibal novels as well.

So, instead, I choose to remember only that first one. Rendezvous With Rama, the only book. No series.

Thank you once again, Arthur.Surely the "C" in Arthur C. Clarke stood for "cool"

Surely the “C” in Arthur C. Clarke stood for “cool”


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words? What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works.

One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Books that changed my life: 04 – Childhood’s End

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com.

This is the fourth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man


After discovering both Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, it felt like someone had applied the jaws of life to my brain, cracking it open and filling it with all sorts of science fictiony goodness. It didn’t take long to start discovering other SF geniuses.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

And the next one was a doozy. Arthur C. Clarke. Though I hadn’t realized it, I was already slightly aware of Clarke’s works, through the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie, that infamous Kubrick/Clarke collaboration. My father had taken me to see it at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on one of our weekend visits. I would have been a hair over five years old at the time…which shows you how much my father’s decision-making skills were impaired by that time. Who the hell takes a five-year-old to 2001?

Still, he did. I kinda didn’t get the whole monkeys part at the time, and the ending completely eluded me (still does). But that middle hour? Hell, that was cool. Spaceships!

Childhood's End

Childhood’s End

So, now, about six years after that, I stumbled on a battered paperback copy of Childhood’s End and, I looked through the first few pages to see if he’d written anything else–the best resource a pre-teen had to look for additional works, because I always hated those funky little library drawers filled with books all catalogued by the Dewey Decimal System. Back then, I counted myself lucky if I found the SF section. The Dewey Decimal System was as much a mystery as…well, as the ending to 2001.

Glancing through the list of the author’s other works, I saw 2001. Well, that was enough for me. This would be my next brain-blaster.

Childhood’s End had all the earmarks of what I would consider a classic story at the time: Aliens (and, though they were somewhat menacing, overall, they were here to help us. And that was cool in its own right), and kids who changed, who evolved, who became greater than their parents and greater than the sum of their parts. Oh, and the end of the human race as we knew it.

Now, I’ll admit that my first reading of the novel left me more than a little confused. It had some racially-charged moments when the Overlords stepped in to stop the reverse Apartheid in South Africa. And there was the whole Ouija board thing that signaled the change of the children was coming. As well, the entire end where the children transformed and left the earth on a burning column to join the Overmind confused the hell out of me.

Still, I knew I was reading something important. Something fantastic.

How did this book change my life?

Unlike Bradbury, Clarke dealt a little less with the people and a lot more with the big concepts Extraterrestrial beings that oversaw the evolution of entire planets’ civilizations. Travel not to the Moon or Mars, but to planets 40 light-years away.

Hell, this was when I figured out what a light-year was (the distance one travels over the course of a year while traveling at the speed of light. It works out to about 6 trillion miles or a hair under 10 trillion kilometers).

He also dealt with the end of the world. The end of mankind and its ascension to the stars. This was big stuff.
arthur-c-clarkeSo, for those keeping score, Erich Von Däniken gave me a good bullshit radar, more of a life skill than anything, but still… Then Robert A. Heinlein gave me adventure. Ray Bradbury helped me understand the deeper emotions and the human condition. Each one gave me a sense of wonder, but each one kept it mostly relegated to our solar system.

But Clarke gave me the universe. He gave me aliens that were actually alien, not human-like people that came from another planet. Later on, he fired my mind again when I read one of his many famous quotes: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

He stretched my mind. He actually stretched it more than it could actually go, because, as I said, I simply didn’t get all of what he was saying. But it didn’t stop me from trying, and it just made me go to other areas of the library to look some of the stuff up. Like what a light year was. But he’d stretched my mind, my imagination so wide that it never came back to its original shape. I was now open to a hell of a lot more and wanted to learn more so I could understand more.

So, he also gave me a real thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of any sort.

Thank you, Arthur.

 


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words?

What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Books that changed my life: 03 – The Illustrated Man

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com.

This is the third in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet


I’d discovered Robert A. Heinlein’s books shortly after unlocking the secrets of the public school library. That was chronicled in my last blog. After a while, I exhausted the library’s supply of Heinlein books and I can distinctly remember thinking, well, now what?

Staying in the area I felt comfortable in, I looked again to the SF section. I’d previously dug out a book with a striking cover that captured my attention. A bald, naked man, tattooed from the neck down, sitting on a slapped-together platform against a red landscape. Was this Mars? Why was he on that platform? What was with the tattoos? What was with The Illustrated Man?

And who was this Ray Bradbury guy, who was quoted on the cover as “The world’s greatest science-fiction writer.” Surely that was Heinlein, not this Bradbury guy, wasn’t it?

I had to find out. And besides, this cover was easily the most eye-grabbing cover I’d ever seen on a book.

I quickly found out it was a book of short stories, something I had not yet read. Of course I knew of short stories, but short science fiction stories? Nope, that was a new one to this still-virginal reader. I was all of ten or eleven years old at the most.

And, even at that tender young age, even though much of the subtle nuance of the typical Bradbury story likely flew miles above my head, still…still, there was magic in these words.

Bradbury captured me quickly with The Veldt, a story that still crackles against my imagination to this day. A 3D nursery? Kids that don’t want it shut off? I could relate to that aspect, as my mother told me I watched far too much television. She was likely correct. But damn, what those kids did next…it was, to use an overused and undervalued expression, mindblowing to my pre-teen sensibilites.

Kaleidoscope showed me dying astronauts and a child watching falling stars. He caught me again with his subtle magic with The Highway and the couple that missed the end of the world.

The Long Rain, with its description of constant Venusian rain, enough to drive men to suicide…whoa.

Zero Hour was another one that hit me like The Veldt. The nation’s kids are all playing a game called Invasion, that the parents essentially wonder about, but ultimately pass off as a kid’s game. Then the invasion actually happens. Again with the creepy kids.

Then there was The Rocket Man. I’ll pull the Wikipedia description for this one:

Astronauts are few in number, so they work as they desire for high pay. One such astronaut goes off into space for three months at a time, only returning to earth for three consecutive days to spend time with his wife and son. The story is told from the perspective of the son, who holds an interest in one day also becoming an astronaut. Talking with his father, the son learns of the constant battle he faces with yearning for the stars at home while yearning for home while in space. Despite this he has several times attempted to quit, staying at home with his family as he realizes his constant absence has nearly destroyed his wife. At the end of the story the father takes off into space one last time, only to meet his end by the sun. His wife and son now avoid the daytime and become nocturnal.

The Rocket Man hit close to home…uncomfortably close. My father wasn’t a rocket man, but he did love flying and constantly left us to spend months in remote locations like Africa or the Arctic or Greenland. When he came home, he itched to leave like a heroin addict craving their next hit. And because of that, and a lot of other things, I lost him to divorce at the age of five. So, though I didn’t really understand the concept of allegory, I saw myself as the kid in that story.

The stories that I didn’t quite “get” at the time included The Other Foot, considering the young me had no real experience or interest at the time in interracial relations. The Man with its religious undertones also left me feeling nothing, having very little in the way of a religious upbringing at the time. The same goes for The Fire Balloons.

And of course, there were other stories in the collection. Eighteen in all. Each one a strange and wonderful world.

How did this book change my life?

These stories struck me in a strange way. Initially, when I read them, I found myself a little disappointed. Nothing big happened. There’s little violence and no battles and no explosions. The only monsters seemed to be human. Bradbury’s stories were…quiet. They seemed to be told with the volume down.

Then that disappointment turned to realization that stories didn’t always need explosions and violence to entertain. But more than that, Bradbury’s stories made me think. Actually think about people, about humans, about mankind. He was the first author that held up a mirror and showed me myself and those around me.

And he did it quietly, subtly and with a precise skill. And he did it in short stories, quick hits to my psyche. He didn’t even need the length of a novel to get to me. That was new.

In talking about the books that changed my life up to now, I also acknowledge that, if I went back and read them, I would no longer be entertained, challenged or engaged in them. But not so with Bradbury. He’s an author I continue to read. I keep going back to books like Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes and still, each time I read them, I marvel at the man’s style. Oh sure, his future isn’t what it used to be, his Mars and his Venus have been unveiled as fiction (albeit beautiful fiction), but still, the central ideas hold true.

For works that are six decades old, that’s impressive.

So, from Ray Bradbury, I got a different sense of wonder, a more reflective wonder. It’s something that I try to seed into my own fiction, though I’ll never reach the mastery of the late, great Ray Bradbury.

Thank you, Ray.


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words?

What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.