Thursday, June 30, 2005
Our computer monitor finally gave out on us the other day. It was a 14 inch DAYTEK. Man, did that thing ever last. I remember when it was about 5 years old and it died on us, the warranty was great - all I had to do was drive it over to a repair shop in Oakville and clickety click, Barbatrick, it was fixed. That's why, when shopping around for a new monitor, we went with another DAYTEK. This time it's a 17 inch flatscreen. (yes, we stayed with a tube-based and not an LCD monitor - we'll buy our LCD monitor once something else, likely holographic monitors are the latest thing) Wow, real difference - I think we'll have less eyestrain now.
I haven't got much reading done while on vacation, but we have been busy doing stuff around the house and trying to get out. Been having a blast playing with Alexander - he's really loving the pool. We're going to try to make a quick trip out to Port Dover today. He should enjoy that.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
I've always attributed the fact that I enjoy mornings to my father, who was the fellow who woke up the rooster each morning -- well, for 65 years at least. Without realizing it, he quietly taught me to appreciate the subtle beauty of the pre-dawn hours. I often think that I have him to thank for helping me discover this very magical time of day. I tend to do my best writing in the early morning hours -- and now that my father is no longer around, it also tends to be a time I associate with him -- I can almost feel his presence. And if I don't turn around to check, I can fool myself into believing he's standing there, looking out the window, like I often witnessed him doing, just taking in the beautiful quiet stillness of the morning. Despite the fact that he was a large and well-nourished man, he could be as still and move as quietly as a ninja. He'd move through the house without even causing the floor boards to creak. This was likely something he picked up over years of hunting and fishing.
Fran tells me that I also picked up other traits from him -- things I hadn't considered. My work ethic, for example. Regardless of the time or date, he could easily be found doing work -- I have countless memories of heading down to check out the high school on Christmas Eve or on New Year's Eve with him (he was the chief custodian at Levack District High School). He never claimed those hours or asked for overtime. A few years before he retired, he also took on two jobs for the price of one. They had him overseeing not only the high school, but also Levack Public School -- instead of replacing that school's chief custodian, they simply added it to my father's responsibility and forced him to split his days. I never heard him complain about getting the shaft, and, of course, it was foreshadowing for how a similar fate would befall me in my own career several times. (Although, unlike my father, I can't say I never complained)
One of the saddest things about losing my father was that he never got a chance to meet Alexander. While I've never been a great fisherman, I'd been looking forward to having my father teach Alexander the joys of fishing, and also of hunting. And if he didn't enjoy these pastimes on their own, perhaps my son would, like me, just enjoy hanging out with the old man, taking in all the glorious splendour of nature. I sure didn't like putting hooks through worms or firing my rifle at anything living, but man, did I ever love sitting in the boat across from my father, listening to him talk about different animals or birds we spotted, or trying to emulate the way he stalked through the forest making nary a sound.
Oh yeah, the love and respect for nature and the outdoors. That's another thing he taught me.
Ants welcome! All varieties! Bring your friends!Of course, I didn't see the sign, but I'm sure it's there. Maybe it is an ant "highway" billboard and is perhaps posted at a crossroads in one of the plethora of underground any tunnels and that's why I can't see it. But in any case, these past several weeks I've seen the evidence of it.
It wouldn't be so bad, of course, if Mister Bunny put himself to work and helped scare them away, stomp on them, eat them -- whatever it took. But he just sits there like a rodent version of Garfield the cat, lazily glancing on as the ants go marching past him.
I've got this concern that the ants are starting to burrow holes under our floor tiles and grow a colony there - Fran thinks I'm nuts. I wondered if this might just be the horror writer in me wanting to explore a fun new concept. But I've already written and published a token "bug" story. Treats was about a man who kept his dead wife's body upstairs in the spare bedroom because her biggest fear was of the "ground bugs" crawling through her dead and decomposing flesh. And anyways, apart from movies like Them ants don't frighten me the way spiders and other creepy crawly things do. At least, not yet.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
I must have caught the "God I love mornings" bug from my Dad, who woke up the sun each and every day. There's something magical and awe-inspiring about the pre-dawn hours. It's powerful to me, like a "witching hour" perhaps - maybe it's the time of day that my conscious mind is most properly in line with my creative juices, because I find my writing most productive then.
Lots to do today - although I slept in yesterday, I thought I should get up early and try to get some writing/housekeeping stuff done. Today is Book Expo Canada, which will be a long, busy and exciting day, so I won't get much chance to write. Yesterday afternoon and evening I was able to spend an hour or two working on a few writing/editing things -- got some of an older story re-typed (I lost an electronic version of it somewhere along the computer upgrades - so I'm re-writing it as I key it in -- it's going well), was able to reply to a couple of North of Infinity III submissions (I think I'm about 6 or 7 subs away from being close to caught up), and managed to finally get my gmail access working at home (some bug related to a Windows service pack that conflicts with Explorer and my firewall - when I installed Mozilla's Firefox internet browser it resolved that issue instantly, and I'm now a faithful convert to this browser. It's sleek, sexy and easily configurable. I highly reccomend checking them out).
Saturday, June 25, 2005
This morning got off to a bit of a slower start as I actually slept in until 9 AM - likely catching up on lots of lost sleep. After he had his breakfast, Alexander and I went to Pioneer Pools to get him some fun pool toys and so I could get some sort of weights to keep our pool ladder (hollow plastic) from floating away.
When we got back we received a panicked phone call from Fran's mom - an animal was stuck in her basement, in one of the vents - it was scratching like mad. So we abandoned our planned grocery store trip to head over there. After half an hour of searching, I finally found (by hearing - the darned thing was quiet for a long time) the manic scratching on the vent leading from the furnace to the chimeny. I got the pipe apart, preping the area with lots of towels and boxes to "trap" the squirrel that I thought was inside, so I could easily catch it and release it. (I may be a horror writer, but I tend to only harm animals and humans in my stories - I'm a people and animal lover and thus try my best not to do harm to the big and small creatures I share this planet with). When I peered inside, these little beady eyes blinked back at me -- it was a bird -- either a sparrow or a finch. It was hard to tell because it was dark and the thing was covered with soot (it's an oil burning furnace). After a bit of prodding, I was able to get the poor little guy out (not without a minor chase through the basement once it got out of the furnace vent) and free again.
Then I enjoyed a nice Lakeport Pilsner, thinking back to how the other day, in an attempt to crash in on Lakeport's market share (Lakeport is a wonderful Hamilton-based brewery that has finally gotten a brand into the top ten sellers at Ontario's The Beer Store), Labatt's had a bunch of scantily clad women walking around downtown Hamilton dressed as the Honey-bees or something like that to promote Labatt's new Genuine Honey beer. It's a blatant attempt to hone in on the market Lakeport secured with their wonderful Lakeport Honey Lager, but Lakeport's beer is still $1.00 cheaper, and they have my loyalty, for providing a smooth tasting beer at fair, fair prices. Teresa Cascioli, the President of Lakeport, has done a marvellous job of introducing great tasting brands like Lakeport Honey and Brava (a home-brewed mexican-style beer much better priced than Corona) , among others, and giving this local bewery a fighting chance against the big boys like Labatt's and Molson. Yeah, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Molson, but it has started to wane ever since they sold out to that non-Canadian Adolf Coors company. (Coors, I was never all that fond of, although their commercials are funny, and as for Adolf, there's something about that name that makes me not want to like it) Three cheers for Lakeport!
Friday, June 24, 2005
Okay, this isn’t right. My legs are still burning a bit this morning from the morning jog two days ago. This means I let myself go waaaay too long without regular exercise.
Speaking of burning, last night, instead of cooking supper Francine and Alexander and I headed off to Dairy Queen. Okay, we stopped at Harvey’s on the way there (because despite the fact that she’s a beautiful and sexy woman she does secretly chant the manly “long live the grill” Harvey’s catchphrase when she thinks that nobody is listening. I held out for a Flamethrower burger at Dairy Queen -- a double patty, bacon, cheese and a very spicy delicious sauce. Yummy, yummy yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy. We followed that up with a round of ice cream, and Alexander enjoyed several tiny mouthfuls of soft serve, delighted about the experience. Since Francine often sings “Scary Queen, Scary Queen” to the tune of the old 60’s cartoon Spider-Man theme song on the way there and back, I think she was delighted about the whole thing too.
I got up early again today (this time only at 5:00 AM), but not to jog. Fran and Alexander are coming in to Toronto to see me this afternoon, so Fran will end up parking at one of the GO lots (likely Burlington or Appleby) and we’ll ride home together tonight. So I hoofed it to the GO station in Hamilton. It’s actually a nice picturesque 20 minute walk down the mountain (it’s actually the Niagara escarpment but us locals call it the mountain) - there’s a set of stairs that run from Upper James on the mountain and down to James Street in the city. Part of my route takes me along the Bruce Trail for a few metres, which is a nice reminder of the natural splendour I live so close to. Heading down the escarpment, I was amazed by the advancement of the undergrowth since I’d last taken the route and I took a moment to appreciate it and count all the blessings in my life that I mostly just take for granted.
The song "The Analog Kid" from Rush's Signals was in my head for some reason.
You move me - you move me
With your buildings and your heights
Autumn woods and winter skies
You move me - you move me
Open sea and city lights
Busy streets and dizzy heights
You call me - you call me
That's why, when I got to the train and saw the young nursing student who sometimes rides the train in the morning with me and Norm, and I couldn't remember her name, (I think it might be Carrie, or perhaps Kari, but I honestly can't recall) I just kept thinking of her as the fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs.
"The Ghost in my Dreams" - cool photo by chickencat on Flickr
Thursday, June 23, 2005
I've been making some good headway recently on re-writing an old story of mine into a new format (and giving it a fresh new voice as well). This is an early effort I first wrote when I was seventeen and fascinated with Death - not dying, but Death as in the reaper. The story was called I, Death and was my attempt at exploring Death and also alluding to Asimov's I, Robot - not because of any similiarities of course, but just because I liked the title. I since wrote a "sequel" to it that is a much better piece of writing, but I've always wanted to revisit this original piece and see if it could be re-worked into something salvagable.
So far, so good. The concept itself is not new - but I'm curious to see if I can bring the characters and situation a new life in a new form. I've been able to slap down about 2000 words in the last few days, and this is just writing I've done on the afternoon GO train ride home -- yes, despite the constant distractions of the people I ride with. I'm considering cancelling my subsription to The Hamilton Spectator in order to free up more writing time for the ride into Toronto in the morning, but it is nice to actually have a bit of a clue about what's going on in the world.
The big debate going on in my little head right now are how I'm going to spend the morning tomorrow when I set my alarm for 4:50 AM. Will it be jogging again (my legs are burning like mad this morning from yesterday's jaunt), lifting weights, or snuggling into the basement den with pen and paper. All three appeal to me for different reasons.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
I must have been inspired by Shupe's postings about jogging -- similar, I guess to the way that peeking in on other writer's blogs helped get me in the mood -- but I also want to ensure that I'm in good health and able to play sports and do other fun physical activites once Alexander gets older.
Last night while working in the back yard, I came to the conclusion that I should pick two days a week (see, not trying to push it too hard - sleep, after all, is part of living healthy) where I get up perhaps an hour early and do one of two things: go jogging or write. Original plan was something like go joggin on Tuesday morning, get up early and write on Thursday morning. Today was a test to see if I could actually do it. I think I passed. (Not all that difficult; when I was going gung-ho on my novel Morning Son I got up an hour earlier 5 days a week and worked on the novel before getting ready for work - of course, that was before Alexander came along and I hadn't tried something like this since)
Fran suggested that I just use the treadmill in our basement, that it wouldn't make all that much noise, but I wanted to be out there, enjoying the scenery. I'm certainly glad that I did. Our neighbourhood is beautiful and very peaceful that early in the morning. I jogged a path similar to the one that Fran and I often walk (now with Alexander in the stroller) - down West 2nd, zip over to Upper James for a short stint, cross through a small park, then run along the escarpment and up West 5th. Fifteen minutes of running left me about a ten minute walk from my house, which was a perfect warm-down. The traffic on Upper James and West 5th was still pretty quiet, and I mostly had the sound of the wind through the tree leaves, a chorus of birds chirping, a bunch of neighbourhood cats (most of which I'd never noticed before) quietly prowling around, often pausing to keep their eyes on me as I passed.
It was a perfect morning -- a good invigorating way to wake my body up, and during the run I was able to sort out some writing ideas and concepts. The experience was so positive that it makes me want to try for a third day in the regimen -- perhaps doing some weights on the third day. I estimate that I was able to run about 2 K. When I was running often, I could do about 5 K in 35-40 minutes, but I know that I'm just getting back into it and am running at a slower pace than before. Perhaps in time I'll be able to increase my run time and pace and put in a nice 5 K in the morning.
Now, I have been doing more writing lately, trying to get some writing in on the GO train ride home (of course, Christina and Dawn-Marie on the 4:30 PM train are often fun distractions when doing their "team" crossword puzzles that you can't help but want to participate in -- I also hate it when the conversation between them and Mark, Dave or Barb and sometimes the ever popular Richard Black, gets interesting and fun, because that too takes away from my writing -- but I can't help sitting in the area they're in -- it's too damn fun. Let's just hope that it doesn't drive me into the same situation the main character in my story Distractions finds himself in....), but I'm certain that my new sound-body/sound-mind plan will help push a few more of those "back burner" writing projects to the forefront.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Yesterday afternoon Alexander didn't have his regular nap, and so as it neared his bed time, he was really tired. At about 7:55, after his bath and the fun ritual of brushing his teeth (which is mostly just chewing on his tooth brush, trying to grab Daddy's tooth brush and giggling when flicking the brush bristles in Daddy's face), he started to settle down in my arms relatively quickly. As his eyes started closing this ominous deep base pounding started rattling the room. This often happens when a yahoo with bigger speakers than brains drives his car past the house. But the pounding didn't stop - and it was loud - really loud -- so loud, in fact, that I thought perhaps Francine had some music on in the CRV in the garage immediately below Alexander's bedroom (she'd been outside watering the flowers and had a tough day - sometimes loud music is a good way to unwind).
Alexander's eyes started opening to the beat of the pounding base, which didn't go away. It easily cut through the gentle and calming sounds from the radio in his room - we have it tuned in to Wave 94.7, a Hamilton area smooth jazz radio station, which he has become accustomed to fall asleep to. I was eventually able to soothe him to sleep with a rocking motion, and, for the life of me, I don't understand how he was able to stay asleep. The pounding base was occasionally rattling the window panes. Once he'd been asleep for ten minutes, I laid him down in the crib - every deep thud of the annoying sound intrusion made me sure that he would wake, suddenly startled - and quietly left his room, eager to seek out the idiot and his car stereo.
A quick glance through windows revealed that the offending vehicle wasn't parked anywhere on the street near our house. I went outside and asked Fran - she said she couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I handed her the baby monitor and told her I was going to find and deal with it (in my head thinking I was going to be crafty like Seinfeld's George Costanza and tell whoever this offending idiot was that the jerk store called).
I walked down to the end of our block, turned right and spotted what I figured was the offending vehicle. About halfway down the block across the street there were a bunch of people sitting on their deck, and the car (a yellowish-brown late model boat of a car) was parked in front of it. As I got closer it struck me as a Hamilton bleached up and lower-middle class white version of a "Boyz n the Hood" scene. At the car was a middle aged and extremely ugly woman -- dressed like she was pretending she was still a teenager, but that ship had left a couple of decades ago at least -- leaning in the passenger window and a young punk who couldn't have been more than twenty-two sitting in the driver's seat and playing with the volume of his stereo.
I grinned at the woman, who suddenly got an "oh oh" look on her face, and stuck my head in the driver's side window. The punk inside was blond with a brush cut and at least 3 or 4 visible tattoos on his neck, shoulders and arms. I asked him if he could turn down the stereo because my son was trying to sleep and that even though our house was more than half a block away, the windows of our house were rattling. In what I believe must be some sort of fatherly logic I finished with. "It's just not necessary."
Now, I don't know what he thought I meant by the statement, but he'd already turned the music down (so he could hear me most likely), and at that point he quickly got out of the car and stood in my face with his chest thrust out and repeated my phrase back to me. The look on his face was as if I'd told him his mother rode a vacuum cleaner or that playing his car stereo that loud was merely announcing to the whole neighbourhood how incredibly small his penis was. As he stood there, I was no longer in a white version of "Boys n the Hood" but was instead facing Vin Diesel's character from "xXx" -- sure, at 6' 3" and 230 lbs, I'm no slouch, but this guy was seriously pumped. He was a few inches shorter than me, but his muscles had muscles of their own and his body language boldly stated that physical confrontation was just another "day in the life" for this guy.
I may look large but I'm certainly not a fighter -- not that I can't handle myself; I'd been in numerous situations like this before, years before actually, when I was a security guard -- it was usually during concerts or events where alcohol was being served, and I'd find myself trying to break up a fight between two big bruisers or pulling some big gorilla off a smaller person getting his head kicked in. As I stood there, certain that he was going to throw a punch, I decided to play the "I'm not afraid of you" tactic. I glanced over at the car (the music was turned down, goal accomplished), as if casual and not aware of his offensive stance, then smiled at him and said in a bright and cheery voice: "Thanks very much." Then, the risky calculated move, I turned on one heel -- presenting him my back and leaving myself completely vulnerable to an attack -- and slowly started walking away.
I could feel the heat of his glare on the back of my neck, and after two steps could feel my muscles tensing, preparing for him to jump me. I flashed back to some simple yet effective judo moves my buddy Taki had tought me years ago, preparing to dodge to the side, grab his shirt and let his foreward momentum help me slide his face into the street. The shadows around my feet so far revealed that he hadn't moved, and after another step I heard the skank mutter "turn it up" -- by that time I knew he'd decided not to attack, and thus my bluff had worked.
As I continued walking down the street, attempting to look calm and not glancing back, I could feel the unused adrenaline start to burn through my muscles and I started thinking about what I'd just done - I'd acted like a Dad - I'd complained to a younger person about loud music. And just a day after my first Father's Day, no less.
Gee, maybe the punk didn't attack me because he didn't want to hurt an old man? Without being obvious, I glanced down at my sandals to see if I happened to be wearing white socks. Relief flooded through me - I wasn't. Like the young Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie, I wasn't a fully fledged Dad (Jedi), but I was well on my path. I guess it's only a matter of time before the combination of white knee-high socks and sandals becomes a part of who I am, before I completely lose my ability to comprehend basic laws of physics and tell Alexander to close the door because I'm not paying to heat the outdoors, or before "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" become my television programs of choice.
Monday, June 20, 2005
This time around, I made a new recipe that I called "Pizza Panic" - Francine made the dough using our bread machine, using Corona where the recipe called for either water or beer. I ground some dried habanero jalapeno and chille peppers and added them to a can of Unico pizza sauce and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. I fried up some hot italian sausage with a little added garlic and hot banana peppers. I added this all to the two pizza's and the topped them with some pineapple chunks. In all, not bad at all. One of the other highlight dishes from that night were the chocolate cookies that a friend who couldn't even attend (her musical was opening that night at the Ottawa Fringe Festival), but Arianne had dropped these wonderful cookies off for me at work on the Thursday. A lovely chocolatey taste with a touch of cayenne for good measure - reminded me of a strong cinnamon bite - people enjoyed them as a nice follow-up to their meals.
The keg of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale that I bought for the event was a hit as well -- it went down smooth -- as the party dwindled down, a few of us, Peter, Steve and Rob, sat in the basement near the bar, pulled a few more drafts out of the keg and whooped it up until about 2 AM. Steve and I (he and his girlfriend Julia were staying with us for the weekend) ended up sitting up for another 2 hours just chatting and catching up. We tend to always do that after the girls go to bed and while the loss of sleep is more difficult to deal with as I get older, it's certainly worth it.
Friday, June 17, 2005
I had to step back and consider the reason I started doing this. There's a quote from Hugh Prather that I used to keep within sight of my writing desk that goes "If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write" - I had many different fun quotes like that posted all over my apartment when I was single, just out of university and trying to write every single day (Fran has since cured me of posting little hand-written notes all over our home but does support my efforts to write frequently) But the only quote that stayed with me all these years is the Hugh Prather one. I often found it inspirational. It reminded me that I can't avoid who I am. No matter how crazy the rest of my life gets, I never stop being a writer in my head - there's never been a shortage of ideas - damn, that's the easy part - anyone can have a million ideas - but it's committing words to paper (or fingers to keystrokes in this case) that is the real challenge. If I had a nickel for every person who told me they had an idea for a book or story (yet never wrote a word of it) over the years, I'd be able to quit my day job and write full-time, regardless of if I ever sold any of it.
The blog, then, became a way for me to attempt to write frequently (I remember another quote suddenly that "the act of writing begets writing" - and, since there's a chance that my blog writing might be seen by more eyes than just my own, it had to at least be a little readable, hopefully sometimes bordering on enjoyable, etc, etc. It didn't matter what I wrote, just that I wrote, and continued writing something. I've chosen to write mostly in a humorous voice, something my buddy Steve Gaydos always wished I did more writing in, and that seems to be working for me.
But the "telling" thing is that since I've started this blog I've finally sold a story that's been dear to my heart for many many years (Being Needed), and I'm back on track writing new pieces and re-writing some of my unpublished works and actually going so far as to submitting stories regularly again. (I currently have at least 5 stories circulating out there and it's a good feeling to be "back in the game" - I might be sent back to the bench often, but at least I'm in the game again) It's been years since I've maintained a steady diet of writing and submitting - and, without doing both, you're just a writer in your head and not an actual writer.
So, thank you Blog (thanks, Mathew Growden, for pushing me into this -- and, thanks Easter Bunny - Bock, Bock! -- just because) - it seems to be working.
To Blog or Not to Blog? There is NO question. 'Tis indeed nobler in the mind to not just suffer the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of what it is to be a writer, but to take arms (such as a pen or keyboard) against a sea of insane ideas, and by writing, conquer them. To write, to sleep no more - Ay, there's the rub.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
This is a quote from Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" which is the first track off of his Graceland album. I've re-discovered it recently, which brought back some fantastic memories - man, did I ever love that album when it first came out - haven't listened to it in years, but just hearing the first track again lets me know I'll likely be enjoying the whole thing again several times.
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry, baby don't cry
I've recently been enjoying listening to some old cassette tapes of mine while driving alone in my truck. The most recent tape is Paul Simon's Graceland on side A and David Wilcox's The Best of David Wilcox on side B. Strange that I recorded two such different albums onto the same tape? (Yes, albums, as in vinyl and which came in a nice large cardboard sleeve, similar shape to a CD but much larger and all the better to enjoy the beautiful artwork on the cover) It's not all that strange for me. I've always enjoyed a somewhat eclectic taste in music. The dozens of mixed tapes I recorded are evidence of a diverse selection of music, although I can't say that I ever created a mixed tape using Tchaikovsky back to back with Iron Maiden, but I have been guilty of following "El Paso" by Marty Robbins with "I'm An Adult Now" by The Pursuit of Happiness.
When I got home from work last night I was still singing "The Bearcat" by David Wilcox and Alexander had a laugh when I picked him up and started bopping around singing . . .
I went to the zoo, just the other week
Saw the kangaroo, had a talk with the chimpanzee
He said: "Hey brother, if you want a thing that's hip, do the
(you can listen to this song if you go to http://davidwilcoxrocks.com)
Alexander got a real kick out of it. Of course, he's really into the Baby Einstein DVD World Animals right now, so that might be part of it, what with the talk about different animals, or maybe it was just the fun bopping movements - I'm sure it couldn't possibly have been my singing voice which I'm pretty sure he'll grow up to be embarassed of. What I need to do is get back in practice with my guitar (haven't played or practiced regularly for well over a year now), go out and buy a few David Wilcox songbooks and learn some of his songs - then maybe Alexander will have fun listening to me spew out some of his stuff.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The reader, a BookCrosser from New Hampshire had some nice things to say and some good criticism for the book. One of the criticisms I got a kick out of was a comment about "Browsers" in which she said she had difficulty with the awkward writing for the tale. When creating the narrator's voice, I was striving for a pompous self-centred personality, and this to me is confirmation that I succeeded in finding that voice - okay, so maybe I overdid it in terms of turning off the reader, but that's good feedback I can use when I want to try something similar in the future.
Like many readers who have given me feedback she also enjoyed "Ides of March" one of my snowman tales and got a kick out of the "Noises Off" section in which I offer a "behind the stories" view. She also got a kick out of my story "Almost" which was an extremely short tale in which I decided to look at an urban myth/popular campfire story from a different POV.
In all, a nice boost to my day. Thanks follygirl!
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Don't get me wrong - I admire the ability of a company to try to turn a profit. But I also admire a website that offers the same services for FREE to people - I always find it fun connecting with friends I haven't seen for years - okay, it's not always a riot, but at least is always interesting, if not pretty darn cool. For example, people who saw me as a nerd in high school get to see that I grew up to be a nerd as an adult. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
So in my own little way, I'm trying to spread the word about this great FREE site graduates.com. Yeah, maybe there's some hidden catch, like perhaps they give your email address to some spam list - but whose inbox isn't already filled with a ton of crappy spam? - what's the harm in getting a bit more if it means that you might be able to connect with friends you haven't seen for years? In any case, I see that one of the things they do to raise funds is subscribe to google's wonderful adsense program - so I'll do my best to return the favour of their free service and try to click on and check out the advertised sites that interest me.
So, to that end, I'm going to post the schools I attended in the hopes that old classmates I knew who went to Levack District High School, Levack Public School or Carleton University find this blog entry while doing an online search and learn about the great and harder to find free service that www.graduates.com offers to get in contact with old friends.
If that doesn't help, I might go so far as to start posting names of old school buddies in the hopes that if they do google searches of their own names (in the manner that Richard Black often does this), they'll find this free service and might be able to get in contact with old friends . . .
I'm just out there, trying to spread some smiles . . .
Monday, June 13, 2005
I try not to get frustrated with my son when he'd rather play with a toilet paper roll or a doorstop than the fun and exciting toys that our house is riddled with. He is a baby, after all, and the whole world is a thrilling and wondrous place filled with all these marvelous objects that need to be explored.
I guess it's only when we "grow up" that we lose our fascination with simple yet wonderful things that used to keep our attention riveted, and instead spend mindless hours in front of the television watching "reality TV" programming filled with idiots whom, were we to meet them personally, we wouldn't have anything to do with.
Perhaps I can learn from him -- ie, learn the simple yet immesurable beauty of playing with the tag on a blanket, pillow or stuffed animal -- rather than focus on whether or not he can decipher the star, triangle, square and circle shapes enough to put them all in the container through the specially shaped holes.
I certainly know that my creative life has taken a boost from watching him. That and reading some stuff my buddy Peter wrote. The other night while putting Alexander to sleep I wondered about the story I had begun to write when he was first born featuring the adventures of a prince named Alexander and his pal, Mister Bunny. I thought it would be cute to include him and our pet rabbit in a series of fun adventures I could tell him at bed-time. It reminded me of the children's story I'd started a couple of years ago for my Godchild, Madison, but which I hadn't been able to finish - I had a good beginning and a good ending, but was having trouble with all the middle bits. Don't let ANYONE tell you that writing children's literature is easy. I'd rather write a 75,000 word novel than the text for a 500 word children's picture book any day. Sitting there, watching Alexander drift off to sleep, I started thinking about the story I'd started for Maddie. I didn't force anything, just let the beginning of the story drift through my mind and see if the characters would help me flesh out the details . . .
. . . it never went anywhere immediately, of course, (maybe because Alexander was asleep within 10 minutes so I could put him down and move on to do whatever mundane task I was supposed to be doing as an "adult" -- likely plop my butt down in front of the "idiot box"), but as often happens, I think that my subconscious mind kept following the tale and trying out different situations for the characters. The other day I had the pleasure of reading a section of kid's verse that Peter Mitchell was working on. Like Peter's previous kid's verse story, this one was brilliant - it was a fun and exciting fantasy tale which inspired me to think like a child, but also re-synced my sub and conscious minds (hello, hello - nice to see you again)
I immediately started hammering out the middle scenes of the "Maddie" story that had been plaguing me all this time, and pretty much completed the first draft of the story. I'm now well on my way to finally finishing the story for Madison. And I have both Alexander and Peter to thank for this.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Not me. The other night while I was holding my son as he went to sleep I started thinking (yes, Fran and I still hold him to put him down to sleep - I'm sure experts would tell us that we're doing this wrong, and should put him in his crib and let him scream at the top of his lungs for hours so he can learn to sleep on his own - but the bottom line is: too freakin' bad. He's my son - I'll put him to sleep whatever way I feel is best for him. I mean, he's a generally happy kid - always smiling and laughing - but when he's tired and cranky, look out! The kid can let the world know, in no uncertain terms, that he's not content). Anyways, while watching him fall asleep the other night I started wondering at what point he might be afraid to go to sleep because of typical childhood fears, such as the dark, or perhaps the monster under his bed or waiting to jump out of his closet.
I started to wonder what I would tell him. I know that adults are supposed to tell children that there's no such thing as monsters and that the dark is nothing to be afraid of.
But let's be honest. I'm still afraid of the dark, and I know that monsters are often hiding just out of sight in the shadows. And sometimes, when getting into bed, I sometimes find myself taking a quick leap so the monster that lives under my bed (or perhaps that clown from Poltergeist - I'm often convinced it's hiding in the shadows) can't grab my ankels and pull me under the bed. I'm okay with the closet monster in our room, but the one that lives in my mom's house where I grew up still gives me the heebie jeebies. (Fortunately, I was able to move away without that monster noticing and following me) The monster that lived inside the humidifier that my parents used to put in my room when I was sick also seems to have lost my trail over the years.
So what am I going to do the first day that Alexander comes up to me in the middle of the night and says there's a monster in his room? I imagine I might react like Homer Simpson in this one episode where Lisa dreams about the bogeyman and Homer reacts by telling her to nail the windows shut while he gets the gun. I can see myself over-reacting in the very same way: "Francine, Mister Bunny. I don't want to alarm you, but there might be a bogeyman or bogeymen in the house."
So I wonder -- what will I tell my son when the inevitable happens and he's afraid of the monsters he thinks is hiding under his bed or watching him from the crack in the closet door?
What can I say, other than: "Go ask your mother!"
Thursday, June 09, 2005
It made me start remembering the ways in which Kate and I have crossed paths over the years. In high school, she was in the grade one year below me. We worked together on a stage production done for the local tourist association - Rainbow North (she was one of the actors, I was one of the writers as well as an actor), and then, shortly after high school, she worked in the Dowling tourist info booth the year that I was the Senior Travel Counsellor for Rainbow Country Travel Association. My job was to support the staff at booths from Manitoulin Island, up through Sudbury and the Highway 144 corridor and down to Parry Sound. Kate's booth won the annual award for excellence that year - it was a treat to present the award to her.
Kate's older sister, Jane was someone I also regularly crossed paths with. She was one year ahead of me in high school. When I was in Grade 12 (there was a Grade 13 back then - my class was the last Grade 13 class for our high school) Jane and I performed the "Islands in the Stream" Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet in an air band contest. (I had a beard at the time, so was able to dye it and my hair with flecks of grey for a proper Kenny Rogers look - Jane used balloon implants for the Dolly look). Later on, when I was living in Ottawa, Jane happened to also attend the same classes at Algonquin that my best friend Steve was in, so we had lots of fun times then too. At a party Steve and I were DJing, after a few drinks, Jane and I decided to re-visit our "air band" duet shtick - I didn't have a beard, but Jane was able to find some balloons for her role. Lots of laughs.
Kate & Jane's father, Gerry, also happened to be the principal of our high school, and another person with whom I regularly crossed paths. Mr. McColeman was (and is) a great leader - you don't always realize that authority figures are decent folk with a good sense of humour when you're a student, but I remembering being aware of this in Mr. McColeman even in my younger years. I had the pleasure of getting to know him well when I was president of the student council in my final year at LDHS. Also, it was a very pleasant suprise when Mr. McColeman showed up at my book launch for One Hand Screaming in Sudbury last October. He'd seen the article about me in The Sudbury Star and made a point of dropping in to say hello and get me to sign a copy of the book.
When we were chatting, Kate mentioned that she was heading up to Sudbury to see her folks this weekend. I suddenly felt a pang of homesickness (it might have just been the humidity or the Toronto smog) But in any case, this has been a fun trip down Mcoleman memory lane . . .
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The deal is supposed to go like this:
Big Toe: This little piggy went to market
Second Toe: This little piggy stayed home
Third Toe: This little piggy has roast beef
Fourth Toe: This little piggy had none
Pinkie Toe: And this little piggy went . . . wee wee wee, all the way home
While I've always felt a little compassion for the little piggy that didn't get any roast beef (blessed are the meek and all that), since I recant this little number regularly, I've found it fun to exchange the "roast beef" for other fun foods, like Fran's ever-favourite "roast beast" (from Dr. Seuss), or substituting in "a slice of pizza", "chicken wings", "a pile of cookies", "carrots and peas" etc, etc. Similarly, I can exchange "market" with "to the movies", "for a walk" and other fun things. (Perhaps it satisfies my need to attempt to be creative).
But it did get me to thinking about why it was "roast beef" in the first place. What if the little piggy is a vegetarian? Or what if the piggy's religion forbade the eating of beef? Then I remembered, we're talking about pigs here - do pigs even eat roast beef? Why doesn't the little piggy just eat truffles?
Then I realized I was analysing this too much and went back to tickling Alexander and basking in the simple pleasure of hearing him laugh.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
When I was reading about Ramsey Campbell's latest novel The Overnight, which he wrote after working part-time at a large chain bookstore in Britain, I was intrigued. It's about a bookstore that is some sort of doorway to hell; and is about what happens when the staff lock themselves in for an overnight inventory shift.
Given that I loved horror stories and I love bookstores, I eagerly awaited the publication of this book so I could get it and read it. (After all, I've worked in such large format bookstores myself, have done overnight shifts of receiving, shelving and inventory. Bookstores are, of course, haunted, both with the passionate spirits of the readers that browse throught the aisles during the day and with the spirits of the writers who have left pieces of their souls within the texts on the shelves. If you stand quietly in a bookstore or library after hours when nobody is around - I, of course, have had that pleasure many times - you can hear the faint whispers of these spirits, voices from earlier that same day, but also other ones that echo back through centuries. To me, it's like listening to the wind through the leaves of the trees, or the soft lap of water on a lakeshore.
However, after reading the first 150 or so pages of The Overnight Campbell is still in the process of a round robin of introducing the main characters (each chapter takes on a different character's POV). Sure, the hit and run promised in the blurb has already happened where one of the characters is killed, obviously by one of the little creatures skulking around the shadows of the store and the fog, and a walk-on author character has already hinted at some dark history of the land the store was built on; but I'm still waiting for the story to get rolling along. Campbell is a good writer, but I'm having trouble with the voice with which this particular book is written. I'm also finding myself muttering aloud when reading it as the story plants little goblin-type creatures skittering away just on the edge of everyone's perception.
I don't know what it is with me, but I'm not one for the big long set up any more. I simply don't have the patience any longer. When I pick up a novel I want the author to get to the point, hit me with something right away. The tedious and repeated "hinting" that the place is haunted are wearing on my nerves - yeah, I know the place is haunted, or a doorway to hell, or whatever - stop beating around the bloody bush and get to it already!!!!
Fran reminded me that my time is precious, and if I'm not enjoying the novel, then just abandon the book and read something else. After all, there's no shortage of books piled up on my "to read" list. When I glance over at them, I see them all with little puppy dog eyes looking pleading at me, jumping up and down on cute little feet and waving their precious little arms at me saying "me next, pick me, me next" - it's an affliction - I'm like Homer Simpson in the land of chocolate.
But because I respect Campbell's writing, I've decided I'm only going to temporarily abandon his book. I've put it down, to give it some time, perhaps, like a bottle of red wine that needs to breathe a bit once opened before you enjoy it, and have already plunged into Michael Connelly's latest Harry Bosch mystery: The Closers, which I'm already about 60 pages into and closing on the end fast. (Connelly is another writer that compells me to keep turning those pages until the next thing you know, the book is done) When I finish that, I might give The Overnight another try . . .
Monday, June 06, 2005
Francine and I wanted to make an effort to do fun things with Alexander, and so, after shopping at Blockbuster (so I could buy Halo for the X-Box, which I'd gotten hooked on after renting it last weekend - Yes, I mean Halo, not Halo 2. Don't make fun of me - I'm not one of those people who just HAS to have a game the moment it comes out - I'm content to play the "game of the year" from five years ago), we took at fun walk in Spencer Smith Park in Burlington. I'd never been there when not attending the annual RibFest so it was fun. Alexander enjoyed watching the occasional boat zoom by, laughed at the giant carp and the sea gulls, and engaged in lots of people watching.
That night we had Fran's brother Mike and his girlfriend Joanna over for dinner. It was the inaugural use of the new Fiesta Maximus BBQ we'd recently bought, which is 77,000 BTU's of power, 400 square inches of cooking serface, a side and back burner and rotisserie kit (insert Tim Allen-style "Ar, ar, ar" grunt here) We cooked a tenderloin roast using the rotisserie and back burner and I'd have to say that it was one of the best roasts I've eaten. Juicy and moist and melt in your mouth good. (Oh oh, I feel another burst of Tim Allen grunting coming on) - After we ate (and Alexander was put to bed for the night), we went downstairs and played some of the multiplayer options in Halo, which was a riot - we played some team games, with Fran and I against Mike and Joanna. I think Fran got a taste of why I enjoy the occasional "games night" because she admitted to having a blast and wanting to practice for the next time.
Sunday, after some morning house and yardwork chores, we took Alexander down to Bayfront Park in Hamilton for a nice long walk. Fran and I used to jog down there - it's 5 + kilometers when you run back and forth between Bayfront Park and the parking lot to the west of Cootes Paradise - and we thought it would be another fun excursion for Alexander. He enjoyed the geese (got to feed them some of his Cheerios from about a foot away, which he loved), the ducks, the live band, the sailboats and motor boats, and the plethora of people (and their puppies). Afterwards we took him down to Dairy Queen (Fran loves to call the place "Scary Queen" - she always has some great nicknames for her favourite places) for his first taste of soft serve ice cream. About the only thing negative about the day might be the giant blisters on the pads of my feet from wearing sandals instead of proper walking shoes.
Friday, June 03, 2005
When Sean's first novel Eden's Eyes came out in the late 1980's, I was delighted to discover that the novel (a wonderful horror novel about an eye transplant patient who receives the eyes of a deranged psychopath) was not only set in Sudbury, Ontario, but that the author was also from Sudbury. He then went on to write The Cartoonist (this one was set in Ottawa, where I'd moved to attend University, and featured an ancient mysterious patient in a hospital whose drawings were either predicting horrible fortunes, or perhaps shaping them). He followed that with Captain Quad (where a tragic accident leaves an "all-star" popular teen paralyzed from the neck down, sinking into a deeply passionate hatred with a result not unlike Stephen King's Carrie) and then took a hiatus from writing until he released his first non-horror title, a thriller with dark humour undertones, Finders Keepers (which follows a winning $10 million dollar Lotto 649 ticket down a path of greed, mayhem and murder) in 2002 and followed that up with another non-supernatural thriller entitled Sandman (about a psychotic anesthesiologist), which is on the list of one of the best thrillers I've ever read.
Sean is a brilliant writer who starts off with a quick and solid hit to the solar plexus, then he doesn't stop hitting you as the novel rolls on. You're compelling to keep reading the book until you get to the end, barely willing to pause to take a breath. His writing style is very readable and easy to lose yourself in. However, I think one of the things that makes Sandman so frightful is that Sean is actually an anesthesiologist. Imagine living in Sudbury, having read this book and then going in for an operation and there he is, the author of this book, a man who has created some truly frightening, shockingly evil characters, and he's the one putting the mask on your face and saying "okay, you're going to sleep now?" (and what did that quick wink he just gave me mean?)
Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of Sean's writing, and can't rave enough about his work. We've become friends, (I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at Sandman before it went into print, and was honoured that Sean actually trusted and valued my comments about it). Sean was actually a major catalyst towards me finally getting One Hand Screaming put together, and I'm happy to say that my writing has benefited not only from having read his writing, but also from the comments he's made on my own writing over the last couple of years (including my yet unpublished novel Morning Son. And now, my work will be appearing alongside his in an anthology featuring Sudbury area writers. That's quite a thrill for me. (Yes, I'm having a giddy schoolgirl moment . . .)
Thursday, June 02, 2005
I've tried to understand why this story hasn't sold yet. Actually, no wait, a publisher did offer to buy it a few years ago; but when I'd submitted the story it was to a paying print market - the editor wanted to buy the story, but they were in the process of switching to a non-paying online market at the time - I politely turned down that offer. Non-paying markets, or markets that pay in contributor copies only, are a great place for a writer to start out, get some feedback, exposure, etc, but there comes a time when the only reason you consider a non-paying market is when the exposure makes it well worth your while.
When I looked back at the rejections I'd received for "Being Needed" over the years it was always with a comment that the story was great, the writing was enjoyable, but that it wasn't quite for them. I've got a few stories like this - they are speculative in nature, but have a more contemporary or literary feel to them. Traditional horror markets often don't find enough "fear" or elements of genre in them to use, and literary market places are sometimes quick to turn their noses up the moment you introduce speculative elements into the story. I don't know why I keep writing stories like that - no, wait, I do know why - it's because sometimes I don't have a choice - the muse strikes me and there I go again, penning a tale that isn't quite literary, isn't quite a genre piece . . .
Speaking of being afflicted with the writer's curse, I've recently updated my blog with links to several different writer's blogs: Folks like Robert J. Sawyer, Peter Mitchell, Jon Hodges, Carol Weekes, Michael Kelly. I'm finding reading their own blogs quite inspirational - maybe it's sharing in the misery or something like that.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
The first time I drank this juice about a year ago, I remember having a flashback to when I was about eleven or twelve and in Orlando, Florida with my friend Jeff Brazeau and his mother and grandmother - we were having breakfast at some restaurant that specialized in pancakes, and I remember drinking a glass of orange juice and thinking: "Wow, so this is what real orange juice, freshly squeezed from florida oranges tastes like." Up to that point I think my only experience with orange juice was from those cans of frozen concentrate or mixing up Tang crystals (as much as I have always loved Tang, I've never tried to use it to clean my dishwasher). In any case, drinking a glass of this wonderful "Simply Orange" juice brings me back to fond childhood memories and reminds me that I haven't seen Jeff in many, many years - I wonder what he's up to now?