Category Archives: Commentary

Throwback Thursday: What are Coles Notes?

coles-notes

There’s a scene in The Revenant where Father Paul discusses a case with Toronto’s coroner. So far, two bodies have been brought into the morgue in a state of decomposition indicating they’d died more than a week ago. In both cases, there are witnesses claiming they were alive only minutes or hours ago.  The discussion goes something like this:

“What’s this?” Paul asked.
“Autopsy file,” the coroner said.
“They didn’t teach Science at the Seminary. How’s about you give me the Coles Notes’ version?”

Coles Notes are the printed version of web sites like Spark Notes or Grade Saver. In the days before the Internet, we bought Coles Notes in Canada and Cliffs Notes in the U.S., on everything from literature to writing resumes. The author for the books is “The Coles Editorial Board” which was rumoured to be university students. Like the web pages of today that serve the same function, they were not infallible. While studying Richard III before teaching it, I found a discrepancy between their interpretation and mine, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not see how their interpretation was valid.

Though there are no Coles Notes for The Revenant, a study guide is available upon request, which would make an excellent tool for a teacher, student, or book club wishing to study the novel. Let me know if you’d like your PDF study guide by leaving me a note in the comments below or emailing me at info @ eliseabram . com.

Dear Mr. Alan Ball – An open letter to the writers of “True Blood”

Dear Mr. Alan Ball,

WTF dude? Seriously!

First you killed off Tara, whom, along with Lafayette and Jason provided much valued comic relief. It was bad enough you made her into a vampire. Then, just when we were getting used to the idea you kill her again, for real. Tara had it all: a strong female character who was smart, tough, beautiful, black and gay! We didn’t believe it at first. We thought that maybe it was a hallucination, or a dream, that the scene would change and Tara would still be engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a rabid vamp, but no. Tara had finally met her true death.

Maxine Fortenberry had to die, I get that. Since Hoyt left, she really didn’t have much of a role. Now Mrs. Fortenberry is free to take up permanent residence at her country home in Chester’s Mill. Good for her. But why Alcide?

You lulled us into a false sense of security. Sookie was in danger in spite of Vampire Bill’s protection, then came Sam, Alcide, Andy, Jason and the cavalry. Who could predict that when the smoke cleared there would be one random hillbilly (Joe Manganiello’s word, not mine) left to shoot Alcide. And in the head of all places!

I’m sorry, Mr. Ball, but when you killed off my beloved Alcide, you crossed a line. Why Alcide? Why not some of the more annoying characters, like Sookie or Bill?  My friends and I draw another line at Lafayette and Sam. Most of them draw the thickest line you could ever imagine at Eric.

I understand that the show began with Sookie alone until she met Bill and that it would be a neat full circle if it ended the same way, and that the show had to end at some point, but why must it end in letting the blood of our most cherished characters?

I don’t know what you have planned for the rest of the season, but you must stop the insanity! I don’t care what you have to do–re-write, re-film, re-contract–but whatever you do, no more killing off the main characters!

Thank you.

Elise and her “True Blood” buddies

Just cite the damn site!

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To use someone else’s words without citing the person who wrote them, is illegal and subject to prosecution.

What does citing references mean?

According to Dictionary.com, to cite means to quote a passage from an authority, or to recall something. When we write, we recall who owns the copyright of the information we are quoting.

We live in a world where everything we create is copyrighted the moment it is saved to a device. According to Google, anything that is a work or invention of creativity, including a manuscript, is considered intellectual property, that which may be copyrighted, patented or trademarked. To use someone else’s words without giving him or her credit for positioning those exact same words in that exact order is theft of intellectual property, also known as plagiarism. In other words, to use someone else’s words without citing the person who wrote them, is illegal and subject to prosecution.

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How do I protect myself from plagiarizing?

The answer is simple: cite, cite, cite!

How do I cite my references?

Citing references is a two-step process.

For step one, a note must be made at the exact place where you use someone else’s words. This is usually called an “in-text” citation, as it places the author’s name and other information (depending on whether you are using APA or MLA notation) in parenthesis (brackets) inside your text.

Step two is to include the complete reference for the original source material in a works cited list. Although the exact information and formatting will vary depending on the style you use, the basic information will include the author’s name, year and place of publication, and URL or publisher, depending on whether the source is print or digital in nature. Works cited are listed in alphabetical order, preferably by author’s last name.

Do I really need to use in-text citations if I have a works cited page?

The answer to this question is an emphatic yes!

Imagine a report card with a list of marks and no reference to teacher or course. This is kind of like a works cited list without in-text citations. Without indicating which information came from which source, a works cited list is useless. The idea is that you, as the author, uses in-text citations to show where a quotation comes from. If I’m interested in reading further, I know to go to the works cited list to find more information about the publication so I can find the same article and do more research. Without the in-text citation, I am left with a list of sources and no indication of which information came from where.

How often do I need to include in-text citations?

Any time you paraphrase, summarize, or directly quote anything that you didn’t write, you must cite it using in-text citations. This could mean having 1 or more citations for every sentence in your composition, depending on the type and requirements of the manuscript.

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It is always better to over-cite than to under-cite and be accused of plagiarism. I don’t know of any teacher who has ever complained because there were too many in-text citations in a term paper.

A final word

When it comes to citing sources, it is best to subscribe to the CYA school of thought–cover your ass! Cite everything you learn as a result of your research. Even if you think you might already know about the topic, cite one of your sources.

Give credit where credit is due; don’t forget to cite your sites.

“Orphan Black” is Mind Blowingly, Jaw Droppingly Satisfying

Kerplow!

That’s the sound of my mind being blown.

“Orphan Black” does it again with this week’s episode, “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things.”

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If you aren’t watching “Orphan Black”, you should be, so let me catch you up. Street thug Sarah Manning discovers she’s a clone after watching her “identical twin” commit suicide by train. She joins forces with her clone-mates, suburban housewife and mother, Alison Hendrix, scientist Cosima Niehaus, and her actual twin, the wild Helena, to figure out the story behind the clones’ origin.

This week, sick Cosima can be cured using Sarah’s daughter Kira’s stem cells; both Sarah and Kira are on board with sharing a little of Kira’s DNA. Dr. Aldous Leekie (love that name) is given a chance to live by evil clone Rachel provided he run and never look back. And Alison blabs about her role in her neighbour’s death to Vic (Sarah’s ex) who is selling her out to cop Angela Deangelis (Angel the angel – another great, if not redundant, name).

On to the mind blowing. Fuse Number One: the reunion of Sarah, Felix, Vic and Alison in a clever moment of comic relief.

The last time these four got together Vic lost a finger. Since then, he’s enrolled in rehab where he meets Alison. The two strike up an unlikely friendship which is understandable once we realize Vic plans to sell Alison out to Deangelis. This week was Family Day. Vic won’t send Alison up the creek if she arranges a meeting with Sarah so he can atone for his sins. Sarah and Felix arrive at the facility. Sarah is confused for Alison and forced to role play with Alison’s husband, Donny, with laugh out loud results. Poor Vic is drugged by Felix and everyone in the facility thinks he’s relapsed.

Donny is the key to Fuse Number Two.

Alison has always suspected Donny was her watcher. This week we learned he thought he was involved in a sociology experiment, like they did in university. Turns out he had no idea who he was actually working for or that Alison was a clone. When Alison accuses him of ruining their marriage, Donny seeks out Leekie, forces him into his car at gunpoint and Leekie confesses. Donny accuses Leekie of ruining his marriage. Leekie berates him. Donny gets angry and bangs his hand–and the gun–against the steering wheel. The gun goes off. Leekie’s brains are splattered all over the inside of the car.

My jaw dropped and stayed unhinged for several moments thereafter.

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Then I laughed.

Then I cursed. How dare “Orphan Black” keep me hanging as to what comes next for an entire week?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Overcoming Writer’s Doubt

This blog post represents my entry in the “Overcoming Writer’s Doubt” Writing Contest held by The Positive Writer.

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“I wish I could write like that,” I said to my husband. We were in the car heading home from the theatre having just seen “The Mummy Returns.”

“You can,” he told me, and for the first time, I shared the story that had been tumbling around in my head for the twenty or so years prior.

The rest of that summer was spent in the eye of a perfect storm of creative fury, spurred on by my love for science fiction, the abundant resources of the Internet, and the fact that I had been tasked to teach Writer’s Craft that coming September. As I researched the finer points of structuring plot, character, imagery and theme while preparing my lessons, the trickle of words I’d only ever been able to muster soon became a deluge. In my dreams I saw my novel on the shelves of bookstores and on bestsellers’ lists worldwide.

Nearly ten years passed before my masterpiece was complete and I was ready to shop for the perfect venue for my book. Back then, few publishers and agents were accepting submissions via email. Printing out my novel and mailing it was cumbersome, not to mention expensive. I soon succumbed to doubt and gave up on my writing career before it had even begun.

Then the next idea took root.

I ignored it at first, reluctant to take another ride on the writing roller coaster. Before long, the incessant chatter of the characters could not be silenced by anything other than my transcribing their story.

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Five years later Phase Shift was finished. A few more publishers and agents were accepting unsolicited manuscripts than before, but not many. After a year of fighting the good fight, and another twenty or so rejections added to my pile, I realized my submissions had amounted to nothing more than expensive lottery tickets. Actually, I’d convinced myself, I probably had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting published.

I took time to lick my wounds, wallow in writer’s doubt and decide if the writing life truly was for me.

I was teaching grade ten English at the time. Over a period of about three years, I’d listened to near a thousand student presentations on young adult novels. Every semester my awe at the torture YA novelists foisted on their characters grew; global apocalypse, false accusation, abuse, addiction, pregnancy, murder–no topic was sacred.

In my discussions with them, the librarians at my school encouraged me to write YA. At first, I had no clue where to begin. I’d always wanted to write a vampire story, I thought, so I began where I’d begun almost every project I’d ever tackled–doing research. It was during the  research phase I discovered revenants, kissing cousins to vampires in traditional lore. I soon realized I’d stumbled upon an untilled field of possibility. As little was known about revenants, I could shape them into almost anything I wanted.

Coincidentally, Nanowrimo was not far off that year. If I could force myself to stick to the regimen the contest demanded, I could bang out most if not all of my first draft in as little as thirty days. In spite of the demands of my job and my family, I “won” Nanowrimo and spent most of the next six months finishing and polishing my manuscript.

I felt good. I’d written my best work yet. I was going to be published by a traditional publishing house, but not before a knock-down drag-out bidding war between publishing bigwigs for the rights to my book. I was going to be the next Stephanie Meyer! The next J.K. Rowling! Bigger!

And then I began to send out queries.

When the responses started to roll in, elation was replaced with the first buds of writer’s doubt.

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“Your book doesn’t seem right for us.” I could deal with this kind of rejection;  the problem wasn’t me, it was them. I soldiered on, but with each successive rejection I started to realize maybe the problem was me. What if It was worse than me? What if it was my writing? I could always change a plot or write a new story, but if my writing was the problem…?

With each new rejection it became harder to navigate the waters of the river of writer’s doubt without slipping under.

I decided to focus on my next novel (which I tentatively titled I Am, Was, Will Be Alice), allowing The Revenant to stew on the back burner for a while. I liked my Alice novel. I liked The Revenant, too, but if it wasn’t meant to be then I’d have to write another magnum opus and try again. I believed in The Revenant, even if no one else did. I took a course on how to market a book, resolving to self-publish and run with it myself if no one had picked it up by the summer.

Then the gloriously unthinkable happened: one of the publishers I’d contacted was interested in publishing my book. A week after I’d heard the news I’d signed the contract. The stormy waters of self-doubt settled, the clouds parted, the sun came out. I might have heard harp music and choral angels sing.

I was going to be published!

I’m not going to lie and say I’ve managed to permanently banish writer’s doubt from my life. As long as my success hinges on how well others receive my work those thin tendrils of writer’s doubt, the ones that threaten to take root and sprout buds will always be there.

Let’s just say I’ve managed to prune back the branches for the time being.

The Revenant, a YA paranormal adventure novel by Elise Abram is set for a 10 July 14 release by Black Rose Writing.

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Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter X

 

 

 

is for Xenophobia

 

 

 

 

Xenophobia is a fear of strangers or of the unknown. It is frequently used as a device in literature, especially science fiction literature.

My theory is that, in times of war, the stranger is the enemy, be they German, Russian, or Mid-Eastern. During times of war there is an upswing in the number of books, movies and television shows where the stranger is the enemy. In World War I and II, most people had no idea what the typical German was like, except that s/he was different from typical Americans (or Canadians or Britains). Ditto Russians during the Cold War or people from the Mid-East since 9-11. It makes sense to cast the stranger with the unknown culture, the object of fear, in the position of the enemy in the media.

In times of so-called “peace”, there is an upswing in the number of popular culture projects in which the alien–as in from another planet–is the enemy. This is because with the advent of the Internet, the world has gotten smaller and we pretty much know about every culture there is. But a stranger from another planet? Now that is something to fear.

Most works simply assume aliens are out to annihilate the human race. Aliens speak a foreign language, they look different than us, and their culture–if it exists–would be different than ours as well. The truth is, most aliens would probably look more like Star Trek‘s Horta than its Klingons. Does a steaming mass of lava  or a shimmering plasma field have a culture? Can it/he/she/schlee have a culture?

I’m not sure what is more frightening to me, the likes of  Hannibal Lechter and Joe Carroll, or Lrrr and Ndnd from Omicron Persei 8. What’s scarier to you–an ordinary human psychopath or an alien from another planet? Would you fall prey to xenophobia and automatically assume the alien is your enemy? Post your opinions in the comments below.

 

 

The Lure of the Vampire, or Why We Fantasize about Dead People

Vampire lore owes its popularity to Bram Stoker and the release of Dracula in 1897 at the height of the Victorian Era. At that time there were strict rules for how men and women should act in public, such as women never appearing in public or found alone with someone who wasn’t their father, brother or husband. Women’s clothing was generally quite restrictive with high necklines, bustles (to accentuate the behind) and corsets (to cinch the waistline). Necks and ankles were considered “sexy”, only because they were, for the most part, hidden from view.

In the novel, Dracula creeps into both Lucy and Mina’s rooms whilst they sleep to bite each of them on the neck. This challenged a number of social values including men and women being alone without chaperones and men seeing women in anything other than full dress. Women were expected to restrain their desires, yet the female characters in Dracula welcome his penetration (pun intended). The titillation factor was high as a result, which might account for the popularity of the novel in the long term.

Symbolically, blood and the drawing of it have sensual connotations. Blood signifies a woman’s coming of reproductive age. It is associated with the loss of her virginity and subsequent sexual awakening. It is also spilled with childbirth (Kella), all topics that were not discussed in polite company, yet implicitly referenced in vampire lore.

The main thing that’s changed since Dracula’s heyday on the literary stage is the degree of vampiric humanity. Most vampires are young and attractive. They are driven by their appetite for blood, their lust, and their emotions. Many male vampires (think Aidan from Being Human and Damon from Vampire Diaries) epitomize the leather-clad bad-boy popularized by James Dean in the fifties and which a number of ladies still find appealing.

Modern vampires are tragic figures who, lives cut short and often sired against their will, evoke pathos in their struggle against what they’ve become and what they’ve had to do to survive the ages. They are portrayed as broken brooders in search of the one person on earth who is able to fix them. Though they sometimes mate with their peers, they often desire human companionship. Even then they are forever doomed to play Romeo to a still human Juliet, taking star-crossed lover after star-crossed lover only to watch them grow old, perish and die unless he turns her.

In spite of the myriad books, movies and television shows, vampires are still hot, the object of fear and fantasy for so many of us.

Which vampire or vampire story is your favourite? What was it that attracted you to it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Is the world ready for self-driving cars?

auto-car

 

“As Reyes speaks to me, the car lurches into action.  He uses the rudder control to join the traffic stream, and then flips a toggle switch on the dash. The car moves forward, speed ebbing and flowing with the pool of traffic. I get the idea the vehicle uses auto-pilot to arrive at its destination.  Once he has flipped the switch, he keeps his eyes on me instead of the road. Not once does Reyes busy himself with the drudgeries of defensive driving.”

Phase Shift

Google uses them; “Toyota Priuses equipped with self-driving technology“. Once the stuff of science fiction, self-driving cars may be a reality within four years. Already we have cruise control and anti-lock breaks (which always take me by surprise and do nothing but make me brace for uncontrolled impact), proximity cameras and cars that parallel park themselves, is it such a stretch to think they could do so much more in the very near future? The argument is that cars on auto-pilot could drive closer together, alleviating traffic. They could eliminate the need to stop at intersections if the coast is clear. They would take out the human error factor that causes so many deaths on the road. To extrapolate, if there is no danger of collision, there is no need for heavy, internal structure and safety features, so cars could be made of lighter-weight materials making them more fuel efficient. Seems win-win, no?

If there’s one thing the invention of autonomous cars reinforces, it’s the extent of human ingenuity. History tells us that if one person invents it, another will invent a hack for it. Case in point, Will Smith’s I Robot, Live Free or Die Hard, and Revolution or worse, Terminator, all cautionary tales in which technology either malfunctions or is derailed (on purpose in Die Hard and accidentally in Revolution) to the detriment of society. What if the system malfunctions or is hacked? In the event the Internet is turned off, would the cars still work?

Imagine the President of the United States in an entourage of light-weight self-driving cars, free of safety features. How easy would it be to commandeer the vehicle from a distance? Tired of paying alimony? Hack into your ex’s auto-pilot and drive him/her into a wall. If you use anonymous servers and encryption codes, what are the chances they could track the destruction code patch back to you? Why go through the trouble of training and placing pilots in major US airlines to fly planes into buildings when you can cause a multi-vehicle pile-up on a highway by turning off proximity detectors or throwing a bug or two into the software without leaving your country of origin?

Sounds like a premise to the next great science fiction disaster epic to me. Guess what? We’re all cast as the main characters. Coming soon to a parking lot near you.