Monday, December 31, 2007

Favourite Books Read in 2007

I stole the idea of posting the best books I have read this year from Brian Keene's blog. And, like all cool ideas, I thought I'd steal/borrow/liberate it (choose the word you think best fits what I'm doing here) and make my own list.

Following is a list of the top 10 books I read in 2007. They are not necessarily books that came out in 2007, but books that I read (or finished reading) this past year. I read a lot of great books this past year and it was difficult to narrow it down to just 10 that I'd recommend -- but I had to draw the line some where, and if I didn't stop at 10, this post would go on forever.

The books are in no particular order. (Okay, they're in the order that they came to mind when I was thinking about the books that I enjoyed most or that left the greatest impression on me)

The Best Laid Plans: A Novel
by Terry Fallis

I'm not much into political novels, so this first novel by Terry Falls (described as a satirical novel of Canadian politics) caught me off guard. I started looking at it out of curiosity (the author is a McMaster grad and we were considering having him come in for a book signing) and the story hooked me immediately. It's a great book about an unlikely candidate's rise to power in the Liberal party. It has some really funny moments and well crafted characters that stick with you long after you finish reading it.

by Robert J Sawyer

Sawyer again reveals his strength as a speculative storyteller in this touching and fantastic tale. On the surface it appears to be a modern version of a tale of "The Fountain of Youth" but this story of a couple who, on their 60th wedding anniversary sign up to have a "rollback" (a new expensive and experimental rejuvenation procedure that makes a person physically 25 again) is wonderfully refreshing and contains interesting thoughts on love, morality and ethics.

Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour By Motorcycle
by Neil Peart

Peart has created a new genre all his own with his literary musical biographical travel logs. And he keeps getting better with each one. Roadshow is a travelogue of the R30 tour (the 30th anniversary tour of the Canadian rock band Rush) -- Peart covers moments from concerts as well as the motorcycle and travel adventures had with his traveling companions between "work days." Filled with interesting insights into a reluctant celebrities life on the road and poignant notes scribed in his daily journal describing the sights, sounds and smells of his adventures (that "suck while you're having them"), this is a fascinating book.

No Time For Goodbye
by Linwood Barclay

This one isn't like Barclay's previous 4 mystery novels (the wonderfully humourous, zany and suspenseful Zack Walker mysteries). There's no humour in this one, but the suspense and mystery are top notch. A teenage girl who awakes one morning to find her parents and younger brother missing spends the next several decades wondering what happened to them -- were they murdered? If so, who killed them and why? Or did they just all leave, completely abandoning her? If so, what would drive a family to do that? Barclay has created a startlingly great story filled with tension and suspense and even more questions as the mystery is slowly unraveled.

Echo Park
by Michael Connelly

Connelly continues to paint a beautifully haunted portrait of an investigator in Harry Bosch as he reinvestigates a fifteen year old murder discovering that he missed a clue the first time. Bosch's character and Connelly's stories continue to develop and get better with each new novel he writes -- Simply, Connelly never disappoints. Solid, tight, wonderfully written.

The Rising
by Brian Keene

A seriously worried father struggles to make his way halfway across a zombie-filled America to save his son. Brilliant, touching and terrifying, this novel grabbed me immediately and held me in suspense until the very last word -- is Jim's son still alive? If so, will Jim make it and save his son in time? While I'd never been a fan of zombie novels, Keene definitely changed my mind about my misconceptions of what a zombie novel could be.

Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffery Deaver
by Jeffery Deaver

In the introduction Deaver states that the beauty of the short story is there are no rules -- and in each tale in this phenomenal collection, he proves it over and over again, much to the reader's delight. I have enjoyed Deaver's novel length writing but think that, his genius ability in the short story, particularly the way in which he is able to masterfully deceive the reader with fantastically crafted twists deserves the highest praise.

A Twist of Malice
by Jean Baxter

A superb collection of short stories filled with murder and mayhem by a Hamilton area writer that is definitely worth discovering. Baxter reveals a sharp wit and wry sense of justice in many of these delightful tales, all laced with just the right touch of malice, but also filled with the foils and emotions of humanity.

Brave Men Run - A Novel Of The Sovereign Era
by Matthew Wayne Selznick

Imagine if John Hughes and Stan Lee collaborated on a novel and that comes close to this incredible first novel by Selznick. Nathan Charters is a misfit, gifted with strange, cat-like abilities that set him apart from his friends and family in this alternative universe set in the mid 1980's.

Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness
by Jay Ingram

With many different details examinations of consciousness, the way our brain operates and how we attempt to make sense of the world, Ingram has crafted another winner. This book is yet another fine collection of thought-provoking and fascinating tidbits from the world of science made accessible to the lay person.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

HNT - Favourite HNT of 2007

The last HNT of the year is where we re-post our favourite HNT picture from the previous 12 months. I picked my favourite picture (from this post) which was taken about a dozen years ago of myself and my mother in law Dianne back when Francine and I were living in Ottawa. I have always loved this picture of the two of us because it illustrated the fun, loving relationship the two of us had. This past year has been a particularly difficult one because it's the year that we lost Francine's mom. Looking at pictures like this of us having fun together do help me feel a bit better.

Below I've posted two of the runners up of my other favourite shots from the past year.

When that haunted doll from my mother-in-law's place moved in with us and kept sneaking up behind me when I was least expecting it . . .

And, of course, having Susie guest star on an HNT series of posts (Terror in Toyland) was also a fun highlight for me. (I do hope that we eventually find out what happened to Susie after that horrific train crash)

Well, happy final HNT for 2007. Thanks for visiting (or re-visiting) my blog - hope you are having a fantastic holiday season and all the best to you in the New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hip Hip Hooray For Christmas Vacation

Having worked in retail for over 15 years I'm still not used to having a Christmas vacation. In most other retail environments, even when I was working at the head office, Christmas was the busiest time of year.

At a university bookstore, however, the first three weeks of September and are the craziest time of year -- it is, of course, also busy the first few weeks of January (second term starting) and in the few weeks leading up to that in December (with a combination of getting textbooks ready for January as well as dealing with higher volumes of pre-Christmas traffic).

But it's still nothing like a regular retail Christmas and the madness of Boxing Day, etc. Nosiree, McMaster is closed until January 2nd and I'm officially on Christmas vacation.

This year, we kicked off the vacation with a father and son whirlwind road trip. Alexander and I rented a van (a 2008 Chevy Uplander mini van) and headed north on Saturday on the 6 hour hike up north of Sudbury to pick up Baba (my Grandmother) and Baba-Jean (my Mom, Alexander's Grandmother) and bring them back to our house for Christmas on Sunday. 6 hours in the car on Saturday, followed by 6 and a half hours in the car on Sunday (more passengers often calls for one or two more "pee break" stops)

It was the first time that Alexander and I had gone on such an extended roadtrip with just the two of us, and we were prepared for fun: the van was loaded with lots of snacks, a DVD player, tons of Baby Einstein, Winnie The Pooh, Max and Ruby and Toopee and Binoo movies, and pretty much every single Rush CD that I own. It was a long drive, and we only stopped once at the half-way (3 hour) mark to have a fun McDonald's lunch in Parry Sound.

I alternated between listening to the radio (I quite like "Moose FM" which you can get within an hour on each side of Parry sound - and I'm still a huge fan of Q92 in Sudbury - this small time radio station has most larger city radio stations beat by a mile with an actual honest to goodness changing/rotating play list. Something that is rare nowadays on popular radio stations) and listening to Rush CD's. When Alexander needed a distracting break, I cranked the Rush and we did air guitar and air drums together, both giggling madly. Of course, the lyrics from the Rush album Permanent Waves never felt more appropriate. "Off on your way, hit the open road, there is magic at your fingers." "The Spirit of Radio" indeed.

Alexander did exceptionally well considering the extended duration in the car within a two day period and the fact that his mother wasn't with us. (I don't think the two of us have ever gone away overnight anywhere before without Francine - but now that I know he's okay with it, I'm thinking it's time we check out camping this summer - just the boys). Francine stayed home to whip the house into shape for our Christmas company, with guests coming over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there was a lot of prep work to do, a tons of organizing to be taken care of. (And all the best work gets done when the boys stay completely out of her way)

One of the highlights on the whirlwind overnight trip was visiting the Parker's house in Levack. It's at the end of Valley Road and for years has been an annual Christmas highlight, with a continually growing fantastic display of festive lights.

The house is at the very end of a street, beyond which is the black darkness of wilderness. Levack, one of the communities in the town of Onaping Falls (Er, I should say, ex-town, since in 2001 it got absorbed into the Regional Municipality of Sudbury) is a small town, one in which you can actually see the stars at night (because there are no bright city lights to diffuse the clear view of the night sky). So it's quite interesting to see the warm and cheery glow set against the pitch darkness behind.

Alexander, being a connoisseur of Christmas lights and decorations, gives the Parker house in Levack a whopping 12 out of 10 points for creativity, excitement and the sheer joy looking at those beautiful lights and decorations bring. Not only is the house, the sides and top of the house decorated, but the decorations sprawl up the hill to the back of one side of the house and extend on up the side yard to the giant shed where all the decorations are stored during the non-Christmas months. It is a stunning view, and tends to grow by one or two new decorations each year.

The return road trip also went off without a hitch. And even the morning's steady stream of pouring rain (a rainshower on Dec 23rd? How un-Christmas-like can you get?) did not deter my sense of Christmas cheer.

It's still early morning, Francine is getting ready to head off to work and everyone else is still sleeping while I sip a cup of coffee and get ready for the day.

Merry Christmas. Regardless of how you celebrate (or don't celebrate) the holiday season, may you find much peace, joy and love.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Da Count - Oral Storytelling

Last night, Francine and I went to see Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. It has become a tradition to go see Stuart's Christmas show, as I think this is our fifth one. Stuart used to do a Hamilton show every second year, but these last two year's he has done one each December.

Awesome. As always.

For those who don't know Stuart McLean, he is the host of CBC Radio's Vinyl Cafe program which we usually listen to Sunday's at noon while doing housework (although I tend to skip vacuuming during the program, as, for some strange reason, I find it difficult to hear with the vacuum running - can't understand why). The show contains a variety of personal stories and travelogues from Stuart, an eclectic sampling of music, often from under heard yet brilliant new Canadian talent that Stuart helps share with Canadians, and of course the Dave and Morley stories.

It was the Dave and Morley stories that first attracted me to Stuart's show. Dave is the owner of a small fictitious record (yes, actual vinyl albums) shop in downtown Toronto called The Vinyl Cafe. The stories involve Dave, his wife Morley (who works in theatre), their daughter Stephanie, son Sam, their dog Arthur, and a slew of neighbours and friends. The stories are delightful and hilarious and often touching and poignant. Stuart has a naturally wonderful oral storytelling ability -- and although the musical talent on last night's live show was phenomenal, the highlight was hearing two completely brand new Dave and Morley Christmas stories.

There is a relatively new Vinyl Cafe podcast available here. For those of you outside of CBC's broadcast area, I urge you to check out the podcast. You won't be disappointed. In fact, I'm pretty sure you'll be delighted and continue to listen to the ongoing brilliant stories by one of Canada's finest storytellers and be tempted to seek out the various wonderful Vinyl Cafe CD's and books. Seriously, go listen now, seek out any of the wonderful Christmas episodes (including the now legendary "Dave Cooks The Turkey" story. You can thank me for it later.

So in any case, this week I'm counting Stuart McLean and the continual treat of the oral storytelling tradition that he infuses into our world. The art of oral storytelling is a special thing, one I am very proud to be able to enjoy, and the man certainly has refined the art of it. So, thanks Stuart. You have given Francine and I a great tradition (both our weekly listens to the show as well as the annual Christmas Concert performance) that we are looking forward to passing along to our son.

And to quote Mr McLean: "So long for now."


Thursday, December 20, 2007

HNT - Gift of the HNT 2007

As has become tradition in the land of HNT, Osbasso has decreed that this week's theme shall be the "Three Wishes" -- we are to pick three HNT folks whom we don't know well and suggest gifts for them.

I've tried to pick people whom I don't personally know or have had any in depth email exchanges with and use the three gift HNT as a chance to read their blogs in more detail and try to find something that I think they would like for Christmas this year.

T K Kerouac

TK is a "neighbour" actually -- based on readings from her blog (which is always fun and playful) she likely lives within an hour drive of me. But, apart from crossing each other's blogs, most often on Thursdays, we haven't met in person and don't know each other.

TK gets a limo to arrive early one Friday morning to pick up her, her daughter and a small group of close friends to take them all into Toronto for a full day of shopping, then a fun filled girl's night on the town. Apart from being equipped with several beverages of choice, and a fine selection of music to listen to, the limo would also contain a handful of digital cameras so the group could click away and take pictures of the day's adventure which I'm sure would end up on her blog.


Charlie is another HNTer whose blog I occasionally bump into on Thursdays and other days. We're not at all geographically close, as she does live "across the pond" but I've always admired her sense of adventure, creative spirit and the stunning artistic photographs she takes and posts on her blog.

I tried to think of something fun and cute and useful as a gift for Charlie, or maybe something that would help support or inspire her creative energy, but all I can wish for her at this time, short of a Christmas miracle, where her father's cancerous tumours start to recede and disappear, is an ability borrowed from a favourite Rush song "Time Stand Still" -- the ability to "freeze this moment a little bit longer; make each impression a little bit stronger."

Instead of picking a third person, I thought it would be a real treat if I could give the following pair of gifts to ALL of the HNTers out there, and make it really simple.

Two people whom I've "met" through HNT and whom I admire for so many reasons are Osbasso (the HNT master himself) and Lecram Sinun (more properly known as the genius playwright Marcel Nunis).

These two men have given so much not only to the blogging world (through social networking events such as HNT and Da Count) and to many of us, but they've also contributed great creative performances in their non-blogosphere lives -- For that reason, I think it would be a real special treat for all HNTers to have a chance to listen in person to Osbasso's Symphony perform, and then head on over and get a chance to see a performance of one of Lecram's plays. Okay, I'm being selfish here, because that's certainly a gift I'd like for myself, but it is something I've love to share with all of you HNTers out there . . .

To everyone in HNT land, here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the peace, joy and love that the season can hold.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And They Shouted Out

Alexander is quite enjoying singing along to various different Christmas carols -- and I have to admit -- for someone who is only 3 he sure does have a heck of a lot of the lyrics of many different songs down pretty good.

He had to learn two songs for a performance at a local church with his daycare centre a few weeks ago -- an absolutely adorable evening -- and he did quite well. He practiced hard and was quite delighted to be singing with his group of friends. I enjoyed watching him come onto the stage -- and even though I was a couple of aisles away from Francine, trying to get a bit closer to the stage to snap off some pictures, I knew Francine was saying "fix his hat, fix his hat" quietly under her breath because this big giant Santa hat was half over his eyes as he walked out onto the stage and immediately started looking for us in the audience.

I've circled him in yellow in the picture below. There was a cute moment during one of the two songs when one very excited little boy on stage started yelling the song out at the top of his voice, completely drowning out all the other children. Without stopping his own singing, it was entertaining watching Alexander, skewed Santa hat, leaning forward and trying to see who it was who was being so rude.

I loved seeing him perform, and he did great, but have to admit the proudest moment was when he spotted me standing up at the side of the hall and gave me a hearty wave. He didn't appear at all nervous when performing -- I guess he hasn't inherited his father's stage fright.

But Alexander hasn't limited his singing of Christmas Carols to those official times that he is on stage. Nosiree. Like his father, he can be found singing along throughout the day while walking, playing, driving in the car or even in the middle of conversations.

One of the songs he's been singing regularly is "Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer."

I have to smile every time he sings it, because, although he has about 98% of the song lyrics down perfectly, when he gets to the part of the song that goes . . .
Then all the reindeer loved him,
as they shouted out with glee:

"Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,
you'll go down in history!"
. . . he sings the words: "and they shouted out quickly!"

I think I prefer Alexander's version of the song. It matches the pace with which he belts out the tune (quickly) and it makes a bit more sense. I mean, those reindeer were mean to him his whole life and are only now friends with him because he was able to famously get Santa out of a jam. I doubt they'd be gleeful for Rudolph's success, but given their fickle nature, saying they "shouted out quickly" suggests a sudden change of heart or 360 in their attitude -- so in my mind "quickly" works a lot better.

Given his affection for singing Christmas themed songs, I wonder if, like his father, he might delight in singing random Christmas Carols at the wrong time of year, like, say belting out "Walking In A Winter Wonderland" in the middle of July or breaking into "Up On The Rooftop" in the spring -- only time will tell I suppose . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Like Father Like Son

Last night we let Alexander watch a couple of Christmas specials that were playing on CBC. We caught the last 5 minutes of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Frosty The Snowman"

Francine and I had to console the poor little guy at the moment when Frosty is found melted down to a puddle. The look on his face was complete devastation, and he was on the verge of breaking into tears as little Karen knelt on the floor weeping over her melted friend.

Fran kept tell him. "It's okay, it's okay. Santa is going to save him." But the little guy wasn't to be consoled until the moment Santa moved the magic Christmas snow outside and placed that hat upon his head again.

Interesting that my son wept (or came close to tears) at the same part that had always (and still does) make me all weepy. Of course, he's only 3. I have no good excuse; particularly since I've seen the cartoon several dozen times. It's kind of like that scene when E.T. dies -- sure, you know he'll come back to life, but man are those few minutes ever hard to bear.

It's a good thing he didn't see the entire "Grinch" movie because, like his father, he might have run screaming from the room, terrified of that evil Grinch character. Brr, that evil grin still gives me shivers . . .

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Silly Christmas Lyric Meme: Silver Bells

Last year I started a silly Christmas lyric meme and thought I would give it another shot with a different song to analyze because, well, just because, I heard a Christmas song that I've heard a thousand times before and it made me think . . . (feel free to play along and share your own silly thoughts about Christmas lyrics on your own blog)

The Rules: Pick a Christmas lyric that you've always had a question about and discuss it. Then either tag one or more people or either tag nobody and invite your readers to tag themselves and enjoy discussing the subject on their own.

The Song: Silver Bells (written by Ray Evans & Jay Livingston, sung by countless others . . .)

Lyrics In Question: "And on every street corner you'll hear: Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city."

The Comment: I know that there's a medical condition in which people perceive one sense as another, so they can perhaps smell colours, see sounds or hear physical stimulation. But apart from this rare disorder, I've always wondered how, in this song, you can hear "silver bells" on every street corner.

I mean, you should easily be able to hear sleigh bells or just some sort of bells in general -- but how, upon hearing them, does one know that they are silver?

Now I have a buddy with a specially trained and very sensitive ear. We'll call him Steve. He can detect subtle nuances in audio stimulus; so I'm considering doing an experiment and taking let's say 3 or 4 of the very same bells that give the exact same ring and painting them different colours, one of those colours being silver, of course, and seeing if he can tell the difference. I mean, if anyone can, Steve will be able to and will thus be able to put a rest to my pondering of these Christmas lyrics.

Tagging: Anyone who wants to play along. (Go ahead, don't be shy. Tag yourself. It feels good.)

Feel free to use the "Cousin Eddie" image by copying the following code and replacing the '(' and ')' with '<' and '>' :

(a href="")(img src="" alt="Mark Leslie's Silly Christmas Lyric meme" /)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Egg, Bacon and Spam

I tend to browse through my spam folder every few days to see if anything from friends or people I want to hear from made it in there. Occasionally, good and important email does and I'm able to retrieve it -- however, along the usual spam emails about increasing my penis size or dramatically reducing my mortgage, there are some real gems that I just had to share.

Check out these SUBJECT lines from recently received spam . . .

"Santa will bring more length and strength to your willy"


"Turn your weewee into a real monster"

Wow, Santa has really diversified lately, and I just love the fact that this second one uses the term "weewee" - now there's a word we just don't use enough of in everyday conversation. I'm going to see if I can find an occasion to bring it up when talking to people in the next few days.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

HNT - Oh Christmas Treat

One of our favourite movies to watch each Christmas season is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation -- arguably the best, most re-watchable of the movies about Clark Griswold and his family.

One of the many great things about the movie is the soundtrack. Last year, I searched high and low to try to find it for Francine. I wasn't able to buy the Christmas Vacation sound track for her, so I did the next best thing. Using a little bit of creative sound recording from the DVD as well as purchases made of albums and single song downloads from iTunes, I recreated it (and added in my own little touches -- either favourites or music from other Christmas shows we enjoyed watching over the years, such as Lethal Weapon, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Here's the cover I created for the CD:

And here's the lineup of tracks on the CD:
  • 1. Christmas Vacation (Cartoon Version) by Mavis Staples
  • 2. Jingle Bell rock by Bobby Helms
  • 3. It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas by Bing Crosby
  • 4. ("Something Really Nice" - Cousin Eddy)
  • 5. Here Comes Santa Claus by Gene Autry
  • 6. ("The Shitter Was Full" - Cousin Eddy)
  • 7. Hey Santa Claus by The Moonrays
  • 8. That Spirit of Christmas by Ray Charles
  • 9. ("It is Goooood" - Cousin Eddy)
  • 10. Mele Kalikimaka by Bing Crosby
  • 11. Mister Grinch by Thurle Ravensroft
  • 12. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Bare Naked Ladies
  • 13. Ave Maria by Jenifer Mclaren
  • 14. Let It Snow by Diana Krall
  • 15. A Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives
  • 16. Christmas Time Is Here by Vince Guaraldi

Of course, I realize that I'm violating Osbasso's theme for this week, the Christmas Tree themed HNT. I figured my Christmas Vacation themed post might be enough (given that I'm posing as Clark Griswold in the photo and the Griswold Family Christmas Tree is a huge part of the movie), but to keep completely in the spirit of things, and to give those seeking a little HNT skin thrill, I'll drag out a few ghosts from Christmases Past . . .

My First HNT Christmas picture from 2005 called "Bare Naked For The Holidays" - a reflection of myself in an ornament on the tree in our basement rec room. See original post here.

And the next one you'll have to click on to view
-- From Dec 14, 2006 - "Francine's Christmas Fantasy" - me posing in nothing but a tool-belt beside the Christmas Tree in our living room. See original post here.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Digital Rights Management Act

It looks imminent that Jim Prentice (Industry Minister) is going to introduce the Canadian Conservative party's version of a frightening new copyright bill. From the sounds of things it's likely going to be a huge detriment for Canadian copyright in general, taking us back into the dark ages of copyright, with no exceptions allowed for parody or other "fair use" (known more commonly in Canada Copyright law as "fair dealing") limitations and exceptions.

Think about that for a moment. No exceptions allowed for parody.

What kind of world would it be without parody? There goes half of Rick Mercer's wonderful weekly show -- imagine this in the U.S. -- what would happen to shows like Saturday Night Live, brilliantly creative artists like Weird Al who thrive and excel at parody?-- never mind some of the only amusing bits on virtually any top 40 morning radio program are the seasonal and timely song paradies.

Would that mean I would have to go back and remove several parody themed blog posts here? D'oh!!!! (whoops, is that phrase copyrighted? Are Matt Groening's people going to come after me now? Sorry, I'm getting paranoid - but, shouldn't I be, with this ridiculous new copyright bill on the horizon?)

The whole thing is frightening -- but we do live in a democracy and there is something we can do to prevent this backwards step. (See links below)

What You Can Do (You Tube Video by Michael Geist) - two minute video

Write Your MP Online Form (From Online Rights Canada) - it takes 2 minutes to use this form. I did so between two sips of coffee this morning. (Laura J. Murray's site) - up to date and interesting information from the co-author of Canadian Copyright: A Citizen's Guide

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Horror Author Book Trailer

Several friends of mine who will be doing a book signing at the Coles in Cobourg, ON this coming Saturday have this nifty trailer that was put together for them.

Saturday Dec 15th 12:30 to 5:00 PM

Di Barron
Gemma Files
Séphera Giròn
Sandra Kasturi
Brett Alexander Savory
Allan Mills

I had the pleasure of doing a multi-author signing with Brett and Sandra earlier this year in Toronto, and I'm sure this is going to be a similarly fun event to attend. If you're a horror fan and are in the area, I urge you to go check it out. You won't be disappointed.

I'm eager, of course, to try my own hand at creating a video book trailer. Looks like a lot of fun to produce.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How Alexander Sees Me When We Disagree

These past few weeks, despite the fact that we're good buddies, my son and I have had a bit of a challenge during our bath and bedtime rituals. Yes, he's three and a half, and establishing his independence, so he's going to pretty much gainsay any statement I make.

Some evenings I feel like I've stepped into the Monty Python "Argument" sketch. Gee, given Alexander's ability to pick up and learn things quickly, I wonder if he'll be able to memorize and perform the entire thing with me one day (I recall when I was teaching drama at Carleton University there was an eleven year old student who had completely memorized pretty much every single popular Monty Python sketch out there and one afternoon at the lunch table we were able to rattle off the entire "Argument" skit - much to the amusement of our lunch companions that day. I look forward to being able to do that with Alexander one day (and really driving Francine nuts)

I quite enjoyed the Elf application, and so naturally imagined that when Alexander and I are disagreeing, he likely sees me like some sort of Scrooge. Particularly when I'm often the one telling him that if he doesn't stop misbehaving, I'm going to get on the phone and call Santa and report Alexander's behaviour to him . . . (to see me dance like Scrooge, click here)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

HNT - Go Elf Yourself

When I saw a buddy of mine try out this application, I just couldn't resist uploading my face and Alexander's face onto it and creating our own cute little elf dance. It certainly gave Francine and extra smile in her day - maybe because the our elf selves dance completely out of sync just like Alexander and I normally do.

It's fun. Check out our elf dance, then try it yourself. You can add up to four faces at the same time.

Seriously, go elf yourself - it's a hoot. (It'll take between 30 seconds and 1 minute to load, but it's worth it)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Painting The Line

One of the fringe benefits of working at a bookstore (apart from being surrounded by books and getting to chat with book loving customers) is the opportunity to meet authors. It's a book nerd's dream.

The other week, I had the pleasure of hosting a book signing with two authors:

Cameron has done an excellent job of taking a cheesy horror movie premise and offering an intriguing and satisfying twist to it. She sets up two unlikely road trip companions each with their own deeply buried secrets, and teasingly reveals more and more about their "hidden" pasts as the highway slowly unrolls in front of them.

In much the same way that Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" was a river-boat trip into the depths of internal darkness, Cameron's novel is a road trip that probes those painful-to-reveal elements of darkness we all like to keep hidden from others as well as from ourselves.

Anyone who has ever driven alone on an unlit highway in the middle of night, or tried in vein to run from their past is going to appreciate the brilliant way that this author has married the two concepts so wonderfully in this novel.

I have to admit that the basic premise for Claire's novel originally caught my eye because it was similar to the premise of one of my more popularly received short stories ("Erratic Cycles" - which you can read here for free online). I was quite impressed with Claire's take on the "stuck on the highway in the middle of the night" premise. Because, though she went in a completely different direction than I did, I quite enjoyed the characters and the unraveling mystery she laid out -- and the fact that she kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the tale.

The signing was an enjoyable afternoon, and I thought it was interesting to combine a local interest author title with a fiction title for the event. The ladies hit it off wonderfully and enjoyed each other's company. And customers also seemed to enjoy having more than one author's book to check out.

Claire brought a camera with her and we snapped a few shots of the signing. (I, of course, couldn't resist getting into the one of the photos, being a big ham and all)

Mark Leslie & Claire Cameron

Eleanore Kosydar & Claire Cameron

Monday, December 03, 2007

Writer In Residence

I've been writing for (pause to count, run out of fingers, take off shoes and socks, start counting toes.....) three decades now, and last week was the first time I paused to take advantage of a local Writer in Residence program.

A Writer in Residence typically holds office hours a few days a week, offers instruction and consultation and adds to the enrichment of the local literary community. Usually, the only qualifications you need to book an appointment would be submitting a piece of writing in advance of the meeting (usually limited to a specific page count). But I'm sure if someone wanted to book an appointment just to ask the WIR questions about writing in general, that would be fine. So I suppose maybe the only requirement would be that you're able to book an appointment and show up. Pretty simple.

McMaster's current Writer in Residence is Daphne Marlatt the highly acclaimed poet and Member of the Order of Canada. I had the pleasure of meeting with her last week to go over one of my more "literary" stories (ie, a story that didn't contain any speculative or supernatural content -- although there was death in can take the boy out of horror, but you can't take the horror out of the boy). This was a story that I originally wrote years ago and have tried in at least 6 "literary" markets over the years with rejections from all of them. While I did get some feedback from an editor that the story had too much going on in such a short word length, I was eager to get more detailed feedback on it from a professional writer to see if I should keep working at it or just toss it into the drawer permanently.

Daphne offered the same advice, but in much more helpful detail, outlining the fact that there were at least four strong plotlines running through this 6000 word story, basically packing too much into such a tiny little package. Apart from helping me with specific points where my clarity in storytelling was lacking, and letting me know which scenes in the story really stood out and capture the reader's interest or where I might be able to dig deeper in a scene, she suggested I try to rework the story into a novella.

It was a great half hour session of discussing one of my stories, and I came away from it newly charged with a few things: 1) The story didn't completely suck as a contemporary fiction piece 2) The multiple plot-lines were worth exploring in more detail (novel/novella length) 3) While it is frightening putting your work in front of someone for the purposes of critiquing, the benefits are 100% worth it.

So I'm offering this tiny bit of advice to other writer's out there, whether you're just starting or you've been doing it for years. There's always something great to be learned from other writers -- and if your local University, College or Library has a Writer in Residence program, I would encourage you to take advantage of it. I know I'll be taking advantage of it again next year when a new WIR at McMaster is announced.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Da Count - Daddy's Little Helper

Ever since my son could pretty much get around on his own, he has wanted to participate in the things I do around the house. And while it often takes twice if not three or four times longer for me to get those chores done with my helper, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Alexander has long been a companion of mine in shoveling the driveway, cutting the lawn, puttering around the garage, working on the pool, fixing various broken items, heading to Canadian Tire or Home Depot to pick up materials and tools, and, of course, putting up Christmas decorations.

The other day when I was putting the decorations on the roof, he wasn't satisfied with just handing me things through the window, but he wanted to come out and inspect the work I was doing on Santa's sleigh, reindeer and of course the new Santa ladder.

And that's the beautiful thing. The kid, although only 3, actually doesn't just fart around. he actually works and puts genuine effort into it. And if he's not a part of the actual serious work (rather than the pretend little "Joe jobs" I can invent to keep him occupied) he's not interested. God, I love his work ethic. It's truly inspiring.

I fail to understand parents who ship their kids off or banish them from the work area in order to get their work around the house done. Sure, it means your fifteen minute job will actually get done in fifteen minutes as opposed to forty minutes or maybe even two hours. But you deny yourself so much pleasure, so many great memories to cherish for your entire life. And you deny your children those same things too -- never mind a sense of self esteem and the chance to learn by doing.

When I was young I didn't get many chances to work around the house with my father. It wasn't because he wanted me out of his way (although there was a bit of a sense of it since I recall one of his favourite sayings was "get out of my road") -- it seemed more geared along the line of: "You're a kid, go out and play and have fun -- you'll be working the rest of your life - enjoy the playing now." However, those few occasions where we shoveled the driveway together, BBQ'd together, worked on wood crafting, or even wrapped my Mom's Christmas gifts, particularly the annual "joke surprise" Christmas gift that he worked so hard on each year, are among the finest and sweetest memories I have of him.

So this week I'm counting my little helper and the fact that while it seems like I'm teaching him things while working on tasks, he's actually the one teaching me how to enjoy the moment -- all those moments -- and properly bask in them.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

HNT - TiT - Time To Bale

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

As the hay was hurling down towards Mark's head, he took a deep breath, thought about what his hero Spider-Man might say in a time like this and, leaping to the side, said: "Time to bale!"

He just narrowly managed to jump out of the way of the falling doom of hay, surprised to notice that, in mid flight his underwear miraculously changed back from the heart shaped ones to the original Spider-Man underwear he'd been wearing at the beginning of this adventure.

"Wow, talk about really bad continuity in this storyline," Mark thought, when he heard a cackle from around the back of the barn.

"My hay didn't get you, but my tractor never misses!"

It was Farmer Jones, driving his tractor and hell bent on finishing Mark off.

To be continued . . .

Congratulations to Ameratis whose comment suggestion was used to help write this chapter in the story - Ameratis, your signed copy of One Hand Screaming is on its way]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When Fatherly Advice Backfires

In my son's short three years of life, I have offered up several different nuggets of wisdom that I thought might help him along on his journey.

I didn't think that my advice would backfire or cause him much trouble, of course, at least until he reached his teenage years. But I was wrong. (Being a husband for over 11 years now I should have learned by now that I'm always wrong)

When he was a young toddler, I offered him the solid advice: Don't drink the bum water! (Referring, of course, to the fact that it wasn't good for him to drink the bath water, it being filled with soap and dead skin and his stinky bum)

He never took my advice, of course. But over time he has translated it for his own purposes.

The other night when I was trying to wash his face, he turned to me and let out a panicked yell. "No, Dad! Don't wash my face! It's poo water!"

Then we struggled for a minute, him kicking and splashing and trying to get away in the same manner you'd see the people in the movie Jaws beating a hasty retreat out of the water when they saw a shark fin approaching.

"No poo water!!! No poo water!!!" He was yelling this out with the fierce determination and panic of "Shark!" (or maybe the way that the Griswold's yell out "Squirrel!!!!!" in Christmas Vacation.)


Since kids are smarter than we often give them credit for, and very manipulative with their parents, I figured this was just a ploy. I figured Alexander was just trying to get out of having his face and ears and hair washed in order to play with his bath toys uninterrupted. But if I poured water onto the face cloth from the tap he calmly let me wash his face.

Yes, like Frankenstein's monster, I ended up creating something that grew out of my control.

Word of advice for fathers (and husbands) -- when you think you've got something brilliant and wonderful to offer the world, think twice before you open your big yap.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


The great and powerful Os has decreed that this week's HNT post should feature our MP3 player. Fair enough. I figured I'd show off the 2 GB SanDisk Sansa m250 mp3 player that I've had for a couple of years now.

My MP3 player has served me well, and currently contains the full tracks from the latest Rush album Snakes & Arrows (I purchased the special DVD/MP3 file version), the latest episode of The Writing Show podcast, the last two chapters of Mur Lafferty's Heaven Season One audio book as well as several songs by The Blazing Elwoods and a song by Alex Wilson called Untitled Pretention Pontificated by a Passive Voice (a song that I can listen to at least once per week and still enjoy).

Here's an HNT picture of me listening to my MP3 player in the hotel room I'm staying in this evening. I took a few more risqué shots that I wasn't willing to post here, but if any readers out there are interested in seeing them, click here and here if you're a flickr friend or flip me an email and I'll send them to you.