Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Like The Talking by Ian Donald Keeling

I thought that coming up with my favourite book as a kid would be easy. I'd write about my first favourite book and that would be it.
My first favourite book was: This Can't Be Happening At MacDonald Hall, written by the now very popular Gordon Korman. MacDonald Hall was Gordon's first book, written in 1978, when he was twelve years old.
Let me say that again: he was twelve years old. My first novel, The Skids, just came out and I'm forty-five. Sigh.
Nonetheless, I read the book when I was eleven and decided that if Gordon could do that at twelve, then, hey, me too. And I did. I wrote a novel when I was twelve. You will never read it. It's uh…well, it reads like it was written by a twelve year old. Still, it got me started on the journey I'm still journeying today, so I figured: great, that's what I'll write about. Good old Bruno and Boots.
But then I remembered Hitchhiker. 

I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy only a couple of years later and that influenced my writing so much that the first draft of my second novel was a complete copy of it, replete with a two-headed man. You are unlikely to read this novel (my book, not Hitchhiker), although it evolved enough over the years that I'm no longer embarrassed to show it to people at cocktail parties. I am embarrassed that I take it to cocktail parties, but that's another story.

However, I realize that a lot of people might have Hitchhiker as their favourite book, and I don't want to be the guy in this series who picks Wolverine to play on X-Men Role-Playing Night (you have those, right?)

I thought about Guy Gavriel Kay or Stephen King, but I discovered them a little late for favourite kid book. Considered Lord of the Rings but see: Guide, Hitchhiker.

Then I remembered The Belgariad.

To be honest, I have no idea how David Eddings holds up in 2016. I do know that by the time I was twenty-five, I'd stopped reading his books, and I didn't read much beyond The Belgariad and its sequel The Malloreon.

But boy, did I read the crap out of that first series. I think I read it five or six times before I was twenty.

There were a lot of reasons to like The Belgariad: the world was great; the story was enthralling; the resolution was satisfying and still one of the better resolutions I've read to this day, based on a strong character choice, set up by the series of events that led up to it. And the magic system was the best magic system I've ever read: The Will and The Word. Say what you want to do with the proper intention. It was simple and clear, but not easy, because you still had to take into account little things like, you know, rocks are heavy and mud is softer than solid ground.

But my favourite thing about The Belgariad was the way the characters talked. Not the characters themselves, although that was great too—strong points of view; clear wants and desires; satisfying character arcs and emotional journeys. But it was the dialogue itself that hooked me. Because even though the characters were each based on a fantasy archetype, Eddings was the first fantasy I read that not only ditched the formalism of Tolkien's characters, but actually spoke the way I thought I would if I was, you know, a thief or a Viking. They sassed each other constantly, taking bets on what kind of trouble the dumbest character would get them into. They cracked jokes in serious situations because sometimes human beings use humour as a defense mechanism.

And it wasn't just the laughs. The way Aunt Pol dealt with Garion's immaturity reminds me of exactly how my mom deals with my nephew Bruce. Granted Bruce is three and Garion was fourteen, but hey, he had some growing up to do. The gruff bond between Polgara and her father actually made me believe in and relate to characters that were supposed to be thousands of years old.

Plus, Silk the Thief kicked ass.

So there it is: not my first favourite book, but definitely one of my early favs. If you know anyone looking for an entry-level high fantasy series, you can't go wrong with The Belgariad.

Unless you follow Mandorallen's advice. Never do that. Ever.

Seriously, that guy's an idiot.
Ian Donald Keeling is an odd, loud little man who acts a little, writes a little, and occasionally grows a beard. His short fiction and poetry have previously appeared in Realms of Fantasy, On Spec, and Grain. He’s on the faculty for sketch and improv at Second City in Toronto and likes all forms of tag and cheese. The Skids is his first novel.


Live Fast, Die Fast. We Are The Program.

They're called the Skids. They've got three-eyes, tank treads and a bucket-full of attitude. They play the games and the few that don't get vaped in the first weeks still die at five years old. Game over, thanks for playing. Johnny Drop's the best skid the Skidsphere's seen in generations, but he won't get to enjoy it. Because his world is going to die.
And then Johnny's going to learn that the universe is larger than he ever dreamed.
Part Hunger Games, part X-Games, with a little Monster's Inc. and the Matrix smashed into the mix, The Skids will take you on a ride beyond what you know of the world. So pop the top and show'em the circus, we-we-we're going for a ride.

This post originally appeared on Ginger Nuts of Horror at

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Angels, Psychos, and Little Girls With Bombs

I thought I'd write about more video games.

When I was first offered this opportunity to guest-blog (thanks guys!) and write how games influenced my own writing, I figured I'd tell stories about how my first foray into world-building was in my cramped basement trying to recreate the map from Ultima IV with a pencil and graph paper. And yes, I just used the words Ultima IV, pencil, and graph paper in a single sentence. I'm a little old.

Now sure, that influence has extended throughout my extended life, so much so that my new novel, The Skids, (BLATANT PLUG: COMING OCTOBER 2016! I HAVE NO SHAME!) borrows so heavily from Tron that by halfway through the book you'll expect to see Recognizers coming around every corner. And sure, Tron's a movie, but let's face it: it's a video game.

Yep, I thought I'd be writing about Ultima, or Tron, or Final Fantasy, or Doom, Tomb Raider, Fallout, Burnout, KOTOR, Mass Effect, Fallout again, Tomb Raider again…look, it's a long list. And while I have stolen from—I mean, been influenced by—all of those games and many more, just about all the things I wanted to write about, including the world-building mentioned above, could be summed up in one line of dialogue:

"I just bought a pony made of diamonds. Cause, you'know, I'm rich. I'm thinking of calling him butt-stallion."

So instead of talking about Oblivion or Super Mario Kart or Vagrant Story—seriously, long is the list—I've come to celebrate one simple game: Borderlands 2.

I have a confession: I never finish video games. I finished Final Fantasy VII…I think. I finished the first Knights of the Old Republic. Recently, because it was short and the story was great, I finished the relaunch of Tomb Raider. That's it. Three games in a gaming life long enough have included graph paper.

Plus one more.

Because I finished Borderlands 2. Then I played it again with a different character. Then I played it half-way with all of the characters (I could probably walk to Sanctuary blindfolded). Then back to my fav, Gaige, with whom I played all the DLCs. Then True Vault Hunter mode. Then Ultimate Vault Hunter. Then…look, my very extended point is I played the bullymog out of that game.

All the things I love about BL2, things that I try to bring into my own writing, can be seen in that line of dialogue above, uttered early in the game by the villain, Handsome Jack. Although technically it’s an amalgamation of two lines of dialogue, but hey, I cheated. Here’s to console commands!

First and foremost: the line is just funny. The first time I heard it, I laughed out loud and thought: yeah, I think I'm going to like this. Sometimes the genres I tend to write in the most—science fiction and fantasy—can be a bit…uptight about comedy. Or even humour in general. Thank god for horror.

I honestly believe you can’t have great comedy without drama or great drama without comedy. When I watch Zach Galifianakis, I laugh because his pain is real. On the flipside, I once bailed on watching the TV show 24 because I couldn’t believe not one character cracked: “Man, this day is the worst, I say we go for tacos."

Hamlet is funny, people. Actually, Hamlet is hilarious. And that, to me, is great writing. You can be laughing one sentence and crying the next. Borderlands 2 nails that.
I laughed constantly throughout BL2, but even as Jack would zing me from space—more about that later—he'd turn around and commit some horrible atrocity. If you look past the laughter, there are moments when Borderlands gets crazy dark.

My favourite character, by far, is Tiny Tina. I don't think I'm alone in that among people who've played. But while Tina made me giggle almost the entire time I spent with her, if you peel back the fa├žade and actually take a good hard look at her—where she is, how she was orphaned, what her motivations are—then her story is unbelievably sad. And the end of the DLC in which she makes all the other main characters relive the game as a Dungeons & Dragons session was so beautiful I cried. And not a little. Big, gob-smacking tears.

God bless you, Tiny Tina.

The other thing I like about Handsome Jack’s taunts is they’re all rock-solid dialogue. I love good dialogue and take pride in trying to write it myself. From Jack’s smarmy yet at times cold-as-crap drawl to Mr. Torgue’s over the top bluster, BL2 has great dialogue everywhere. By the way—Mr. Torgue? Imagine the former wrestling great Randy the Macho Man Savage souped up out of his gourd as a politically-correct gun runner. "NOTHING IS MORE BADASS THAN TREATING A WOMAN WITH RESPECT!!!!!!!"

Yeah, sign me up.

The voices flow out of the broad characters—Clap-Trap’s clap-trap prattle, Moxi’s sexy twang, Patricia Tannis’ sociopathic paranoia—but more importantly, the dialogue is just as strong in its down-to-earth characters that drive the story: Roland, Lilith, and Angel. BL2 is a wild, crazy world, but the dialogue feels real, and so I believe in this world.

And that world is wild and crazy, which brings me to the final thing I love about Jack’s taunt, BL2, and heck, video games in general: If it’s fun, screw logic, let’s do it. The genre of science fiction, particularly SF novels, can get a little obsessive about the laws of physics sometimes. Most times. Okay, almost always a lot. Now I get it, gravity works, nothing can move faster than the speed of light, you can’t curve a bullet, etc. But, you know what? I’m not smart enough to write 2001 or any more appropriately modern reference, and curving a bullet is an awesome idea. So is carrying around three thousand pounds of guns, jumping fifty feet, jumping even higher if you use a grenade to jump (WHAT?!?), suspending people in mid-air, summoning a robot from the ether, and randomly finding loot in boxes and chests that are, you know, just spread all around the world. And yes, I know other games created many of these things—I think Quake did the grenade trick first—but I love how BL2 incorporates all these absurd things and more.

Including having the antagonist taunt you from space on his own little personal—what is that, Skype? Now the idea of the antagonist taunting the hero has appeared in multiple mediums and certainly gets used in gaming a lot—the cake is a lie—but when you think about it, WTF? It doesn’t matter where my character is; Handsome Jack has exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right moment. But if he knows where I am all the time, why doesn’t he just blow me up from space: that would make sense, right? For that matter, how does he even do it? His taunts are clean and clear every time. Who’s his wireless provider? I can’t even get a clear signal from my router half the time and I live in a bachelor apartment the size of a pony. There are so many things about that idea that don’t make sense if you think about it too much.

But who cares? It’s awesome when the villain does it. I liked it so much that I put it in The Skids (COMING SOON, #NOSHAME!!!) Because even if there is a small part of me that wonders if it makes sense, what we get in return is great. We get opportunities for humour, character development, and most importantly, we create tension, an awareness that the threat is always, always, always there. And that’s good fun. It’s good writing, and it’s why I love Borderlands 2.

Plus, you know, butt-stallions.

Ian Keeling is an author, actor and owner of a half-decent beard. His day job is teaching improv and sketch at The Second City, in Toronto, Canada, which is, you know, pretty cool.

 His first novel, The Skids, will be published in October 2016 by ChiZine books, and is a full-throttle cross between the video game Burnout, the Hunger Games, and the Matrix. Which, hopefully, is also pretty cool.

You can follow me on Twitter @KeelingIan, or my website

Keeling Me Softly With His Words: An Interview with Ian Donald Keeling, Author of "The Skids"

They're called the Skids. They've got three eyes, tank treads, and a bucket-full of attitude. They play the games and the few that don't get vaped in the first weeks still die at five years old. Game over, thanks for playing. Johnny Drop's the best skid the Skidsphere's seen in generations, but he won't get to enjoy it. Because his world is going to die.

Gef: What was the impetus behind The Skids?

Ian: This is going to sound ridiculous, but…it came to me in a dream. No really. About 20 years ago, I woke up and wrote down what I identified at the time as the first chapter of the weirdest novel I was never going to write. Sometime not long after that, I added a second chapter on a whim. Those two pieces are the bones of the first two chapters.

Then I didn't even think about it for a decade, until I hit a period where I didn't have any new short stories to send out for submission. I dug through my files, found The Skids and realized that the first chapter was actually self-contained and just needed a little world-building to make it a decent short-story. And while I was doing that world-building, I realized that I kinda liked the world I'd built. So that sat for a while, I wrote couple of other novels, and then one day—again between projects—I realized I wanted to actually write the novel. So I did…and here we are.

Gef: With a debut novel under your belt now, how would you gauge your progression as a writer thus far?

Ian: Ha. Well, I started pursuing this dream when I was 12 and now I'm 45 and I'm finally releasing my first novel, so, uh…slow? ☺ No, really, I'm thrilled to finally hit this milestone. It's been a long road—I wish I'd worked harder when I was younger. If I had any advice to young writers, it's this: work hard, then work harder. This isn't an easy career, but it's worth it.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Ian: Whew…lots of people? My first was Gordon Korman (there's a bit about that in the acknowledgements of the book). Douglas Adams was a huge influence when I was younger—my first novel is basically a Hitchhiker rip-off. Guy Gavriel Kay is my favourite author and a big influence, but really, it comes from all kinds of places. Authors from Neil Gaiman to Robert Charles Wilson; screen-writers like William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, or Charlie Kaufman. A lot of graphic novelists: Alan Moore, Frank Millar, Brian Michael Bendis. Heck, video games. I hope someday I write something as funny as Borderlands 2.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Ian: I tend not to think of setting that way, although I think setting is huge and influences everything. I like to give the reader enough to inspire their imagination, but that's it, especially when it comes to world-description. Still, with The Skids, the setting often drives the narrative, and yeah, you could argue it's a character.

By the way, you asked about influences in the previous question: I gotta give a nod to Tron, new and old. It was a big influence on how I perceived the setting.

Gef: Is theme something you have in mind when your writing the story, or is that something that kinds of reveals itself later in the process?

Ian: I usually don't have any idea of theme for the first draft, I'm just trying to tell a story. During the second draft, I start to get a feel for themes that might be present and then I might start trying to make some connections here and there. I try not to be heavy-handed when it comes to message, I really am just trying to tell a kick-ass story, first and foremost.

Gef: What do you consider to be the biggest misconception of YA fiction?

Ian: That it exists? That probably seems weird given the novel I'm putting out, but I'm a bit old-school, so I remember when The Hunger Games would've just been a great science fiction novel. I get that labels help the market and also can help readers find books they might like, but sometimes I feel that it can also get in the way of a book and a reader finding each other. In YA, the misconception is that the writing is only for teens, and I think that's so wrong.

Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Ian: That there are ways you shouldn't write. I hear it a lot at conventions; the one that's affected me the most is that you're only supposed to write in the 3rd person, past tense. Don't use 1st person, and don't even think about writing in the present tense—which I like to do sometimes in my short fiction.

To me, there are only two rules with regards to what style you want to use in your writing. 1) Be aware of the current trends and respect them: if you're going to write outside the norm, you better get darn good at it. Also don't think you're re-inventing the wheel if you do, everyone thinks they're a genius when they discover something for the first time. 2) If you do know of a particular editor or publisher who hates a particular style, then respect that. Don't try to change their mind. Send them your best thing, great, take the shot. After that, respect their choice.

But however you want to write, give'r. You can write a novel in the 2nd person, past-future tense if you want, with every character named Stanley The Firth. Just make sure it's a really good book.

Gef: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Ian: Craptacular movies. If a movie establishes early on that it's just going to take the rules and say screw it—especially if it does it with verve—I'm in. Armageddon, Reign of Fire, Road House…so good.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Ian: I'm working on the 2nd draft of the sequel to The Skids now (the third book terrifies me), so that's the big thing. I'm terrible with social media, but I'm working on it. You can follow me on Twitter at @KeelingIan. My website is a work in progress, but it's at,

The original interview can be found on "Wag the Fox" at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Conventions, Conventions, Conventions!

Hey all,

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who said a kind word about my story “Super. Family.” either here or on the Realms of Fantasy forum site. I can’t tell you how much such things mean to me.

Second, just got back from Polaris (Trekcon Toronto) and it reminded me of a post I was going to make. One of the most common questions you hear as a writer is: Do you have any advice on getting into the field? Now, I wouldn’t presume to offer anything as concrete as advice at this point in my career, but I do have two strong suggestions based on my experience and the mistakes I’ve made on this strange and wonderful road. One is a classic: Write every day. I’ll touch on this in a future post because there’s a reason why everyone says it, but for a simple concept, it’s often misunderstood.

The second suggestion is no less important: go to conventions.

Being a writer of prose or poetry is, in many ways, a solitary pursuit. I work a fair bit in the improv and acting communities in Toronto. As such, I’ve been surrounded by writers for the past twenty years. Just not my type of writer. Theatre, film, improv and sketch are all social arts. With any writing you do for these arts, you're likely to get feedback from peers and from an audience. Through the process of rehearsal and performance, you’ll naturally intermingle with peers and, in doing so, feed off each other. Even long before you succeed professionally (ie. Receive a paycheck for your work) you’ll receive a great deal of visceral gratification in the form of support, applause, and affirmation of your work. And not merely from friends and family; often you’ll receive support and affirmation from strangers and even professionals in the field as well.

None of this naturally occurs with the pursuit of a career in prose writing. Even breaking into smaller, non-paying magazines can be a process of rejection for some time. It can be difficult to get large-scale feedback, especially professional feedback, without paying for it. Hell, it can be difficult to find others at your peer level. So it isn’t hard to end up wandering in the woods, so to speak. Lord knows, I did.

One recent development, the online community, provides an outlet for many of these issues and potentially makes breaking into the field within the last ten years a far less lonely prospect. That said, nothing beats human contact, and for that…go to conventions.

My first convention was Ad Astra last year and within an hour I’d learned more about my field than I did in my first ten years. I remember thinking, you idiot, you should have done this when you were twenty (it was trickier finding out about such things when I started, but that’s still a poor excuse).

At conventions you’ll hear advice from the best in the field, and I’m a firm believer you’re more likely to take advice seriously when it’s directly infront of you. You’ll learn things that you knew you needed to find out about and you’ll learn things you didn’t even realize you needed to know. You’ll meet your peers.

I found my writer’s group because I was at a convention. I found my second writer’s group (I’m in a Sci-Fi and a YA group) because I met someone at a convention. I got my NY agent (Miriam Kriss, who is awesome) at a convention. I met the author (Adrienne Kress, who is awesome) who told me about the convention where I got my NY agent at a convention.

Do you see where I’m going with this? And I haven’t even mentioned the bathtubs full of beer at Anticipation last year.

So that’s my biggest personal suggestion if you’re breaking in. First rule: Write every day. You can’t escape that one. But after that, go to conventions. Meet everyone you can. And by the way, if you’re like me and a little shy in these situations, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most of us are. So say hi anyway. If you see me, I will never shun you, promise. If I’m with a group or someone I know, I might only be able to give you five minutes right then and there, but I will say hello, and if you want to talk, I’ll try to let you know when I’ll be free to give you a decent amount of time. And I suspect most writers, editors and agents at the cons feel the same.

So go find the convention for your genre in your area. There’s probably more than one. Then tuck your pen or netbook into a bag, grab a snack, and walk through the doors.

Your people are waiting.



Monday, July 5, 2010

I'm in the new Realms of Fantasy!

Okay, this is just silly. Three posts in the first five days? I'm setting a precedent that can only lead to disappointment for you, dear followers (I have 4 followers already, how cool is that!).

That said: I have news. I just received my contributor's copies of the August 2010 issue of Realms of Fantasy and it's got me! If you are saying to yourself: yes Ian, that's how contributor's copies work, then good--two points for you.

I'm the lead story, which is super-dang, with an accompanying illustration by Eric Fortune which is just awesome. Seriously, they told me it was a great illustration but that painting is no small amount of brilliant. Check out some of his other stuff at

This issue should be on the newstands any day now. You can easily get a copy from Indigo or Bakka Books. You can also check out the Realms website at "Super. Family." is a long short-story, 10,000 words, so you get plenty of bang for your Ian Keeling buck. Plus, three other wicked stories (and one's a zombie story, hey, hey, hey) and lots of great art and more. Grab your copy now or the zombies will.



Friday, July 2, 2010

The Perils of Publishing

Ahh...Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would post again so quickly.

That said, several people have, either by comment or by email, correctly pointed out that squirrel! is in fact from the fine movie Up! and not Bolt.

Someday, I shall write a bit about what in improv we call, 'The Glorious Mistake.'

This...was not one of those.

In light of this grievous error, I am deducting two points from myself and awarding them to those who caught the untruth in question. It's tough to fall behind so early in the game-I'll probably have to pull the central defender for a striker-but such is life. And life, as we all know, is like a box of chocolates.*

Stay diligent faithful ones, and I shall endeavour to reward such diligence.



* Now that one's from Bolt, right?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

So, this is my blog. Hmmm. Where to begin?

Let's start with the title, shall we? Why 'The Accidental Luddite', you ask? Allow me to explain. No, is too much. Allow me to sum up. And two points if you can name the movie.

It's not so much as I have a problem with technology, it's more that I'm fairly certain technology has a problem with me. You remember the beginning of Jurassic Park, when Sam Neill touches the monitor and it goes haywire? Yeah, c'est moi.

So running a blog should be interesting.

Couple things off the top. One-what will I blog about? Okay, short bio: I'm a writer/actor/improv teacher from Toronto, ON. Not neccesarily in that order. Writing's the life-long dream, acting gets my stage-junkie fix, and improv is a love. My posts will most likely be about the writing, but I've had ADD (yea, you know me) for so long my attention will occasionally-squirrel! (another two points up for grabs)

Second, the rules. Actually, there's only one. Play nice. If you comment on my blog, I'm honoured--hell, I'm astounded you're even reading it. However, a chunk of the stuff I write is for Young Adult or even kids, so keep it clean and kind. Actually, I don't mind if you rip me, I'm pretty thick-skinned; so mainly, be nice to each other.

Finally, I'll try to post when I can. I'd like to make this sucker as useful to aspiring authors, writers, and artists as I can, so I'm going to try to post along those lines and also provide some links to blogs/websites that have helped me.

So, that's it to start. Hope you have fun.



PS. The Princess Bride and Bolt. Well worth seeing, mes amis.