•August 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hello blog, old friend.

The Coles Notes of the last 16 months is I’m studying Computer Science at Carleton University.  Because writing code is kind of like writing English… right?

Anyways, I’ve decided to spend the rest of my summer–the parts where I’m not in summer school–learning ActionScript 3, which is the code that underlies Adobe Flash.  I’m also going to be using Adam Saltsman’s Flixel library, because why not?

First up, I’m programming a simple multiple choice dialogue system, like you’d find in pretty much any modern, western RPG.  I’m also going to try and blog about the experience, because in my formative years, I took great inspiration from people sharing their experiences, and what they learned, online.  Also because why not?

Today’s lesson, is this:


Apparently AS3 doesn’t support function overloading, something that I’ve been taking for granted for most of the last year.  So that’s fun.  It’s going to be interesting learning all the unique little foibles of AS3.  Every language has them, sure, it’s just a question of whether a language’s strengths and weaknesses gel with what you want/need.

More news as it happens.


Compression Artifacts

•May 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Ian McCarran

When I first uploaded The Gun to Amazon (read it free here!), I was distressed to see my cover art become a blurry mess of illegible pixels.  I thought I’d considered everything.  I’d spent hours fine tuning settings, and adjusting the colours.  I’d made sure the text was legible as a tiny thumbnail.  I’d tested the image in black and white.  And yet, the final product looked like a blurry red train wreck.  Where did I go wrong?


The Gun, from conception to publication to completion. (Center & Right Cover Photos c/o Faruk Ateş)

My problem stemmed from some quirk of jpeg compression, as implemented by Amazon.  While the uncompressed image retained its legibility at all sizes, the lossy jpeg looked awful at all except the largest sizes.  My first instinct was to adjust the image – lose the rain effect, and pump up the contrast between the…

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•May 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Ian McCarran

If you’re reading this today, or if you’ve delved deep enough into the archive to reach this post, then you’ll see the last few posts link to my other blog which ran from 2009 until today.  I’m officially switching to this blog as my primary way of reaching out to the world.

Hello, world!

Anyway, I’m going to follow this up shortly with a post on designing a book cover for Amazon, and how I botched it the first time around.  I’ll be reblogging everything on my old blog for at least the next little while, in case you’re already following me there, and don’t want to transition to the new space.

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope to see you in the comments.

The night is very cold

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•April 21, 2013 • 2 Comments

Before we get started, I just want to say that ‘branding’, ‘brand’, and ‘social media presence’, are turns of phrase that make me uncomfortable as someone who just wants to write silly little stories that entertain people.  It sounds like cold, calculating business to me, and I don’t like it.  I use those terms, because they’re the best words I could think of, and if they give you the impression that I’m writing stories according to market research, a dude in a suit in some highfalutin agency, then you are sorely mistaken – I’m not even wearing pants.  Still, selling words is how I hope to support my habit of writing words, and that necessitates some degree of marketing myself and my work.  I’m struggling with it, and this is me talking through the process.

As you now know, I’ve chosen to write under a pseudonym.  Instead of Ian McEachern, I write under Ian McCarran.  It’s a small change, but I think it’s an important one.

The unfortunate truth is that McEachern is a difficult name to pronounce, even among people born with it.  I was raised to pronounce it mick-eck-ern.  Others pronounce it mick-care-en, mick-cath-ryn, mick-cah-han.  And those are just the accepted pronunciations that I know of.  If you’re coming at the name for the first time, all bets are off.

So why McCarran?  First of all, it’s a semi-phonetic spelling of the original pronunciation of McEachern.  Points for authenticity.  Next, it’s pretty easy to pronounce; at most, people will alternate between mick and mack for the first syllable.  Points for curb appeal.  And it happens to be the name of an international airport (exposure/familiarity), while also being uncommon.  An imdb search for the name returns a single result, for a guy who’s nickname was McCarran when he worked on Casino.  The Amazon Kindle store?  Me and one other guy.  Google?  Mostly results on McCarran International Airport, and the dead senator for which it’s named.

With all that being said, the deciding factor for me was that McCarran is an accepted pronunciation of McEachern.  Although I have, post facto, considered all the factors above, I would probably be writing under my birth name, had I not discovered this little factoid.

Edit: Immediately after publishing, I discovered WordPress’s  handy reblog button.  And thus, the next two paragraphs were rendered moot.

Anyway, switching to a pen name does present a problem for my social media presence.  I have a twitter under a handle that dates back years, and I’m not crazy about.  Ditto my old e-mail address.  Even this blog is under the ‘wrong’ name.  I’ve registered the relevant blog/twitter/email under the ‘right’ name, but I still need to migrate everything, and in the interim I’m struggling with how best to go about it.  Do I just cut my losses, post links to the new location, and abandon the old?  Do I stick with the venues I already frequent?  Or is there some ideal hybrid solution?

I don’t know.  I suspect the third option is the right one.  Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest to implement.  I suspect this will make for an interesting retrospective one day.  Until then, I’m going to keep scratching my head.

The one part of marketing, branding and buzz words that I am comfortable with is creating book covers.  I wasted a lot of my youth on photoshop, and those hours are finally paying off.  I’ve had some problems with Amazon compressing my covers to the point of illegibility (more on that in a later post), but for me, it’s still the easiest element of marketing myself.

For the graphic portion of today’s presentation, here are two versions of a cover I made for the (now titled) short story that I’m working on:

Kevin blue or green

Original Photo c/o Jose C Silva

I’m partial to the green one, but I’m I thought I’d post both and solicit some feedback.  Anyone have a strong preference one way or the other?

I’m afraid of the world.

Pulling the Trigger

•April 17, 2013 • 1 Comment

It’s official.  I’m (*cough* self *cough*) published.

The Gun Small

Still waiting for Amazon to update the cover (Photo c/o Faruk Ateş)

My short story, The Gun, is now on sale through Amazon (but you can read it here for free).  I’ll be looking into .epub conversion and Smashwords distribution over the next couple of days (weeks? months?), but in the interim I’m declaring victory and starting to write something new.

But before we discuss that, I’d like to thank you for visiting, and offer up a free copy of The Gun.  You can read it online, or download it as a .mobi.  Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments.  And if you like it, I’d really appreciate it if you left an honest review on Amazon.

At some point I’ll post a guide to creating a .mobi file.  Most of the sources that I found assumed I was working with Microsoft Word (I am not), and I ended up hacking together an HTML solution using bits and pieces from a few different sites, with judicious application of copy-paste and find-replace.  It took hours, and nearly drove me crazy, but at the end of the day I managed to create a functional .mobi, using only freely available software.  When I have the energy, I’ll share what I learned.  I’ll probably write the guide in tandem with the next ebook I assemble.  Hopefully that’s in a matter of days, not months.

In the meantime, I’m off to work on two new pieces of fiction.  One’s a short story, untitled, that I’ll probably release for free here, and/or include in a later anthology.  The other is a novella, for which I mocked up the following cover:

Whispers Small

Cover Photo c/o Qfamily

Cover design has been eating away at my writing time lately.  A lot of that effort has gone into designing covers for ideas in my head (see above), but I’m also working on covers for a couple of my writing buddies.  If they’re okay with it, I’ll show off my efforts in a future post.  Until then, you’ll just have to live with a minimalist preview for my own work.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for stopping by.  And take a look at The Gun (it’s free!).

When it’s time to party, we will party hard.

Writing, you are difficult

•March 26, 2013 • 2 Comments

A few months back, I made a deal with myself. It went like this: don’t write another blog post until you self-publish. Wait until you have something up on Amazon, for sale, so this blog doesn’t read like you blowing steam out your ass.

Today, I’m tearing up that contract, because I need your help.  I have a short story in its third draft.  It’s called The Gun.  Up until last night, it started like this:

When I try to recall his face, my mind instead floods with images of the gun.  That L-shaped chunk of black polymer and steel is all I knew about him during our brief acquaintance.  I know more now – like it’s a Glock 17, 9mm, with a 20 round clip.  But does that tell me what to do now?  Does it tell me anything at all?

Now it starts like this:

 It’s ten minutes after last call, but when I ask the bartender for another round of bottom-shelf whisky, he obliges. This bar, the so-called ‘Dirty Oak’, isn’t my normal haunt. I prefer O’Reilly’s up the street, but I’ve been talking to the bartender on and off for the last four hours, and we’ve developed something of a rapport. While I wait for the whisky – two glasses, both doubles – a woman sidles up beside me. She’s attractive, but not so much that I think she’s been photoshopped into reality. After a glance in her direction, I go back to picking at the chipped lacquer on the bar and waiting for my drinks.

“I thought it was after last call,” she says.

“I guess I’m just a likeable guy.” My words are slurred, but I feel cool, confident through the alcoholic haze.

“Can I ask you a question?”


She laughs, then says, “What would you do tonight, if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?”

I don’t remember the rest of the night.

Both of these are prologue.  The rest of the story starts when the protagonist, our hero, wakes up in the morning.  I don’t want to start the story there, because “John Doe wakes up” is a painfully boring way to start a story.  It needs a hook.  Something that grabs the reader, and won’t let go.  I see the first paragraph as the single most important paragraph in a story.  It’s the opening song on a mix-tape; you’ve got to kick off with a killer.

Let’s graph that:


Dramatic tension over time in The Gun

Right now, I’ve locked down everything from the first valley, to the end.  All I need is that punch in the opening, and then it’s cut, print, off to the press.

Let’s bandy about some examples of great first sentences/paragraphs.

Elmore Leonard, The Hunted:

This is the news story that appeared the next day, in the Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press, page one:


And here’s one of my all time favourite first sentences, courtesy of Jay McInerny, in Bright Lights, Big City:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.

Now I’ve gone off on a tangent, reading the first sentences and paragraphs of a dozen or so books on my shelf.  Most are longer than I care to transcribe, and they’re not all great.  But it’s the great ones that I hope to emulate (obviously).  I’m happy with the rest of the story, and if I could publish 95% of the thing, it would be up on Amazon this afternoon.  But I can’t, and I won’t, so I’m reaching out.

So if you’ve got the time, take a second and re-read the two opening sections of The Gun.  Do either of those introduce a story that you’d like to read?  Does one, or both, bore you to tears?  Let me know in the comments.


So it Begins

•August 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, I’m a day into my month of full time writing, without a word to show for it.  That’s ok.  I move into my own place tomorrow, and will start in earnest then.  For now, I’m enjoying a last bout of relaxation after finding a place to live.  Tomorrow I delve into the dark reaches of my mind, extracting thick black gooey vitriol.  The thought of it makes my skin crawl.  That’s a good sign.

I feel I owe you an apology for the absolute silence I offered up in the last few months.  Towards the end of May, I realized with some surprise that my time in Australia was almost up.  While working 40 hours a week, I decided to make the most of my remaining time abroad.  I booked several tours of Melbournian attractions, and short jaunts to Tasmania and Sydney, before commencing a broad ranging world tour (hitting Japan, South Korea, Jordan, Denmark, and Iceland).  As such, I didn’t have an abundance of free time until I arrived back in Canada two weeks ago.  And then I spent most of my waking hours catching up with family and friends, and scrambling to find accommodation in Ottawa.

Which brings us to today.  I’m listening to a close cousin of my appointed writing soundtrack, letting a misanthropic fog settle over me in anticipation of treating my characters with all the respect due a cast of horror story miscreants.  I’ve also read about half of Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdo (available as a free download from his website under a Creative Commons license), to get my brain back on a literary wavelength.

I’ll likely post updates every couple of days through August to keep you up to date on my progress (or lack thereof).  In the spirit of arbitrariness that’s inspired this whole endeavour, I’m hoping to write 20,000 words by the end of the day on Monday.  That’ll put the novel(la?) at about 30,000 words, and should place the plot comfortably inside act two.  From there, I hope to have the whole thing (read: a first draft) finished by August 13th.

So tomorrow.  Tomorrow I hit myself solidly on the head to knock out some ideas.  Let’s see what hits the page.