Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

It's lights out tonight at 8 PM all over the world. Is anybody besides me remembering that OMD song from the 80's (OMD of course standing for Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) off their Crush album. Of course, this track wasn't one of their singles and perhaps I only know it because I owned the album and played the entire thing repeatedly . . . so yeah, perhaps it's only me (and perhaps my buddy Steve who turned me on to OMD in the first place, would might think about that song)

In any case, today at 8 PM it's Earth Hour. A global statement that is simple for anyone to make about climate change and how we can ALL make a difference.

I'm only going to ask you one thing -- if you happen to be reading this and it's between 8 PM and 9 PM on March 29, 2008, are your lights off? And if they are, great, I'm delighted by that -- but have you also considered the fact that your computer and modem could also be turned off for a much greater effect? It's only one hour, after all. And there's no shortage of things to do during that hour.

For example, Francine is planning on kicking my ass during a candle-lit game of Scrabble.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Da Count - Illustrations

Last week I was raving about the beautiful contributor's copy of BOUND FOR EVIL: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad anthology by Tom English of Dead Letter Press that arrived in the mail, how excited I was about being published in such an exquisite anthology and to appear alongside some truly fantastic authors.

What I failed to make note of, and shame on me for this, is the artist used for the entire anthology.

The artwork, both for the cover and throughout the book, is by the ever-talented Allen Koszowski. I first discovered Allen's marvelous illustrations in a wonderful little horror zine called Crossroads which I'd been published in various times through the 90's.

I've scanned in a few of the covers to the issues that I had stories appear in and which Allen K illustrated. Yes, going back as far as June 1996. I just realized it was twelve years ago. Quite a long time.

I have continued to enjoy Allen K's artwork throughout the past What always amazed me about Allen's artwork is how reminiscent it is to the work of Steve Ditko -- the illustrator who, along with Stan Lee, created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. Like Ditko, Allen K's work has a wonderful surrealistic quality, with an emphasis on mood, particularly creepy mood, which works perfectly in his horror illustrations.

Having been a fan of Koszowski's work for all these years, I am absolutely delighted with the picture below which was with my story "Browsers" in BOUND FOR EVIL. At once it perfectly captures the overall mood of this story of a unnamed narrator becoming trapped within a very unique kind of bookstore.

The feeling of seeing a piece of artwork that so perfectly fits with one of my stories is on par to seeing one of the plays I have written for public school aged children (like "The Show Must Go On") being performed on stage.

Illustration copyright 2007 Allen Koszowski

And along with the thrill of having Allen K illustrate one of my favourite horror stories is the additional thrill of knowing I will have a chance to meet him in person at EerieCon 10 in Niagara Falls New York in April 2008.

So many things to count. So much to be thrilled about.


HNT - There's No Business Like Snow Business

This past weekend, Alexander and I had a wonderful time enjoying all of the snow up in my old stomping grounds of Levack, Ontario. From the afternoon spent on the old Levack Ski Hill (sadly, now closed - but man, what a great place to ride a sled), to the other one spent on a snow machine down in the fields beside the old Levack District High School site (currently the site of Levack Public School - but it'll always be "the high school" in my mind) and the countless hours constructing our Northern Ontario location of Fort Alexander.

I'm posting a bunch of fun photos from the weekend here, and making my official HNT shot the one below that my buddy Greg took of Alexander and I taking turns leaping from a snow jump at the bottom of one of the runs at the ski hill. It perfectly captures the kid-like fun that I had with my son this past weekend.

More of Greg's fantastic pictures from the afternoon at the ski hill can be viewed on Greg's Flickr site here. (Is it any wonder I have adopted Greg as my official "author shot" photographer?)

And more of my own pictures can be seen here.

Photo © 2008 by Greg Roberts

Thursday, March 20, 2008

HNT - Died And Gone To Book Heaven

My contributor copy of BOUND FOR EVIL: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad arrived in the mail yesterday. It's absolutely gorgeous. All 800 pages of it dripping with speculative tales about books.

My story "Browsers" (a Twilight Zone style tale about a trip through a haunted bookstore), is reprinted in BOUND FOR EVIL. And while it is a reprint, it's also a slightly original version, because I tweaked a few parts of the tale (which originally appeared in Challenging Destiny magazine and was reprinted in my collection ONE HAND SCREAMING) in order for it to match the guidelines for the anthology -- in the original version of "Browsers" it is the bookstore itself that is evil -- in the tweaked version, I changed it so that it is the books themselves. A slight tweak, and the story still works nicely.

I can't get over how beautiful this book is -- how wonderfully Editor/Publisher Tom English compiled everything, divided the stories into 6 thematically grouped sets of tales: IN THE BEGINNING, SCRATCH PAPER, A NOT-TOO GENTLE MADNESS, THE ROMANCE OF CERTAIN OLD BOOKS, REFERENCE WORK and MISADVENTURES IN READING (this is the section where "Browsers" appears, along with a stories by Ramsey Campbell, Kurt Newton, Jeff Ryan, Rhys Hughes and fellow Canuck Barbara Roden)

There are actually too many fantastic authors in this collection to mention them all, but you can check out the table of contents here.

I still can't get over how for years I have dreamed of being able to read a book that contains nothing but spooky tales about books. It would appear that I share a passion similar to editor Tom English in having wanted to see something like this. And now, not only does such a book exist, but I'm also honoured to be a part of it.

If you're a book nerd like me and you like creepy tales, then this is a book you should seek out. And I'm not just saying that as a pushy author that wants you to read his story. The printing has been limited to 500 copies, and I can't imagine them lasting long. (The publisher does distribute through book stores, so you can ask for it at your favourite neighbourhood bookstore and any book retailer with a decent ability to special order books should be able to seek it out and order in a copy for you. And if you're in the Hamilton area, I'm delighted to point out that it can be special ordered at the McMaster University bookstore. I mean, after all, what academic can resist such a beautiful collection?)

And I think the book looks quite nice sitting with the dozens of other horror anthologies I own, on the shelf immediately beside Yorick.

Yorick seems rather pleased about it, doesn't he? Almost as pleased as I am.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Born To Be A Bookseller?

Yesterday evening, my son Alexander joined me in setting up a book display in the lobby area where author Michael Adams was going to be doing a talk regarding Canadian multiculturalism. His latest book Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism is a "good news story" which argues that immigration and the social diversity that flows from it are working well in many respects. It doesn't claim that things are perfect (ie, that Canada is free of racism or discrimination), but is an optimistic take on a society that is doing a decent job at something no one has tried before.

Michael was a great speaker, fascinating to listen to, and it was a well received event. All in all, the campus group that organized it (McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice) pulled off a great event.

Despite all the high brow and intellectual discussion that evening, the highlight in my mind was just after we had finished building our book display in the front lobby. Alexander was right into it, helping to pile up the books like they were giant thin lego blocks. He'd been looking forward to it all day.

And once we finished, he quite proudly stood behind the high desk, just his head peeking over the counter and asked everyone who walked by if they liked our book display. He would then immediately ask them if they would like to buy a book.

Ever the avid bookseller (like his father, I suppose), when author Michael Adams arrived and greeted us, Alexander proceeded to proudly show him the display and asked him if he wanted to buy one of the books.

And for a moment, I thought he just might. That's just how persuasive my little boy can be. But instead he gave Alexander a huge grin and said that he already had one and that he was the guy who wrote the book. Alexander's eyes opened up in amazement at that.

And thus, my son, the avid bookseller, learned one of the fringe benefits of working in my job: Getting to meet really cool authors all the time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

And I Miss You Just The Same

It was five years ago today that my father walked into an operating room to have a kidney removed and died a few hours later. He bled to death in the recovery room when the clips on his renal artery came off. Our questions about how that could happen were never properly resolved.

I can still see him walking away with the nurse, that big childlike grin on his face as he made wise cracks designed to leave the hospital smiles in stitches as they both walked through that set of double-hinged doors. He loved to laugh -- and to make others laugh. We'd been told that even as he had woken groggily in the recovery room that fateful morning, and just before he slipped away forever, he had started joking with the nurses again.

He did his best, I suppose, to leave them laughing.

Five years and it still feels like yesterday. Five years and the pain is still just as fierce. Five years of wanting just one more laugh with him. Five years and I miss him just as much.

I'll be tipping a beer back tonight, not in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, but in celebration of you, Dad. And I'll do my best to make as many people as possible smile or laugh as I can today.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Da Count - You Can't Steal My Memories

Among the things I despise most of all are liars, cheaters and thieves.

Not the typical way to begin a post on "counting what you got" is it?

But bear with me, I'll get to the counting soon enough. First, let me vent.

The other day some low-life, idiot prick thought it would be fun or funny to steal the "Do Not Enter" sign that my three year old son had been using as a signpost for his snow fort. Given that the sign was practically buried in a five foot pile of frozen snow, the top half of the wooden post was broken off, and the vandal thief took off with the top half of it.

The sign had not only been a staple in our annual Halloween decorations, but had also become the banner by which my son announced the winter "Fort Alexander" that we had designed in our front yard for the past couple of winters.

My poor son was so upset and frustrated that someone would steal he sign he was asking strangers in the library yesterday evening if they'd seen it anywhere. It simply breaks my heart that someone can do this, never mind do it to a child.

I get frustrated and bothered by liars, cheaters and thieves. Do it to me, and I get angry. But do it to my son or my wife and I get thrown into a blind fury. For the past 12 hours, I've let that bitter anger burn in me like some sort of "Bruce Banner" on the verge of losing it completely. I've wanted to just get two minutes alone with the asshole who got his kicks by doing this to my son. It's been the low point of my week.

Of course, I could look at the good thing. If this is the worst thing that has happened this week, that's a good thing, isn't it? I think about this same week five years ago, when my father died on an operating table, and I think "Hmm, having my son's toy stolen isn't all that bad."

Thinking of my father, of course, reminds me of one of the other reasons this sign means so much to me. Francine and I bought it on an outing with my Mom, Dad and Baba at the Cavalcade of Colours craft show in Onaping Falls the year before my Dad died. It was a wonderful afternoon and we all had so much fun.

We have, of course, used the sign every Halloween since then, and Alexander has grown to love it. Even off season, when he stuck his head into the garage from inside the house and the garage door was closed, he could see the sign sticking out from the storage space at the front of the garage where we would store our slowly growing collection of Halloween decorations and he would say: "Let's get spooky guy down, Dad." He altered from calling it "spooky guy" to "skeleton" -- he was so fond of getting that out every Halloween that when we build our first "Fort Alexander" we both thought it was a good idea to bring out "spooky guy" to protect it like some sort of gargoyle sentinel.

So this week I'm counting the loving memories that the "Do Not Enter" spooky skeleton guy has brought to me and to my family over the years. It reminds me of my father and his love and creativity and that fun afternoon Francine and I had walking around the old Dowling arena with them; it reminds me of the fun Francine and I have always relished in each Halloween (our most favourite holiday season); and it reminds me of the endless hours of fun Alexander and I have had putting up Halloween decorations and building the various incarnations of "Fort Alexander" these past few years. Fond, fantastic memories indeed.

Sure, thieves can take our possessions, can damage our things, but they can't take away those wonderful memories.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

HNT - Continually Exposing Myself

Over a year ago, I began a journey as I started a new writing project. I wanted to take a long short story that upon reading my friend (and awesome horror author) Sean Costello suggested would make a great book and rework it into a novel length work.

It went something like this:

Sean read the story, offered some great comment and feedback on it. But his last comment was: "Okay, that was great. So what happens next?" I said, "What do you mean? The story is over." He said. "Is it? Here's an interesting character with a dilemma he hasn't actually resolved. You could easily continue this story into a novel length story." I started to argue that the whole point was this was a snapshot in what I was trying to say was a typical day (or at least morning) in the life of a man who happens to be a werewolf. The whole point of the story I had called "This Time Around" was how he deals with the side effect of being a werewolf -- in this particular instance, waking up naked in Battery Park on the lower tip of Manhattan Island with the goal of trying to get himself some clothes and get across town. I wanted it to be about the human dealing with his monster alter ego, and not about the wolf itself.

But Sean made me start to think more about it, since the whole point of the story was to get Michael (my werewolf dude) home, or rather to an early morning appointment in Midtown near his home. I didn't resolve for the reader the partially remembered flashbacks to his time as a wolf the previous night. In my mind, that was just one of the side-effects, the mystery of what might have actually happened to him during his "blackout" time as a wolf. But Sean made me think more about it, and about what might happen next.

So I decided to embark on the exploratory project of turning this short story into a novel I was tentatively calling "A Canadian Werewolf in New York."

Since one of my very favourite podcasts on writing (The Writing Show) was looking for "reality show" participants, I offered myself and my desire to turn this story into a novel to host Paula B. Paula was interested and started interviewing me during the course of starting to write this novel in a series called "Getting Published With Mark Leslie." I particularly loved her press release at the time, entitled "HORROR AUTHOR EXPOSES HIMSELF ON PODCAST-BASED REALITY SHOW."

And that has really been what this whole experience has been about: Exposing myself.

That's what HNT is all about, isn't it? A celebration of exposure. Of course, exposure doesn't necessarily mean flashing some skin. There's also exposure of the internal kind -- and often, that's the most "risky" way of exposing one's self.

Over the course of the last year and a half, I've been regularly exposing the behind the scenes look at myself as a writer. From the triumphant moments of achieving a goal or task or making a short story sale, to the more regular moments where life gets in the way of my writing, where I fail to meet my own deadlines, where I get rejection after rejection after rejection for short stories and novels, where I get frustrated with my own lack of progress or accomplishment.

I've received some great feedback from other writers out there who appreciate getting that "behind the scenes" look at the actual struggles. Normally, when you see an author interviewed, they talk about all the work it takes to get their book published -- but rarely do you get into the details of the struggle and frustration, of feeling down, dejected, and just how debilitating it can all be. All writers have been there, sure. And I think that by putting myself out there I might just possibly be helping writers by providing an example of how they're NOT THE ONLY ONE who goes through this.

Similarly, I have exposed several samples of an unedited first draft (Yikes, now THAT's a scary thing to do -- in so many ways it'd be a heck of a lot easier to parade my bare butt around in Times Square) to Writing Show listeners -- Writing Show guest host and book critic Mick Halpin took up my cause and has offered in depth and thoughtful critiques of the novel in progress, helping me refine it into what will be a much stronger, much tighter, much better novel.

Besides offering his insightful and intelligent (and often humourous) commentary, Mick also recently expressed he has had enough with how bloody long it has been taking me to finish this novel, allowing myself to be overcome with distractions and tangent projects. So in late January, he challenged me to write 10,000 words of the novel in February, then another 10,000 in March. (See Episode 6 for more details or right click here to download and listen to it.) I also challenged Mick to write an essay explaining how writing led to his losing a tooth (an aside he made when issuing me my challenge)

Well, February passed, and in Episode 7 of The Writing Show's "Getting Published With Mark Leslie" you find out whether or not I actually made my target word count and whether or not Mick rose to the counter challenge. You can download it by clicking here.

This week's HNT picture is the original photo of me in front of the New York Public Library (which I cropped and sent to Paula to use with Episode 7) . Given that my novel is set in NY and my main character lives not all that far from this location, I thought it'd be an appropriate picture. Oh, and for what it's worth, that is a wallet in my pocket; I might be a big book nerd, but I wasn't THAT happy to visit the New York Public Library.

* A side note to my many HNT friends - I really miss going around to visit - but I'm desperately trying to use every single free moment of each pushing out that word count -- once I get back on top of things, I do hope to get back out there and visit and play catch up with everyone)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Recent Short Story Sales

I was quite proud of myself when, by last week I had tallied the fact that I had 10 submissions floating out there in various slush piles. I was proud mostly because I had resolved to try to keep at least 5 short story submissions "in play" at any given time.

One of the down sides of working on longer projects, like science fiction anthology I've edited and am trying to find a home for, the werewolf novel I'm working on (as part of the "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" series on The Writing Show Podcast), as well as re-editing the novelization of my serial thriller "I, Death" and beginning work on a novel project with fellow author Carol Weekes, is that I end up spending less time work on short fiction and doing market research and sending stories out there.

But I seem to have been able to strike somewhat of a balance. Okay, not so much balance, more of a loss of sleep to accomplish these tasks.

But it has been working nicely.

Not only does March 2008 see two publications currently out there . . .

1) The free online story you can read right now at Dissections: The Journal of Contemporary Horror. "Active Reader" is a cautionary tale about book store loyalty card programs.

2) A reprint (and slight re-write) of "Browsers" in the limited edition anthology BOUND FOR EVIL: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad. Because this is limited to only 500 "leather" bound copies, this one won't last long. (Order now directly from Dead Letter Press and it comes with a free limited edition chapbook as well)

. . . but I also recently sold two more stories (all within a couple days of each other) . . .

  • I sold the story "Captive Audience" to Champagne Shivers magazine. Coming in early 2009.
  • I sold audio rights of my story "Looking Through Glass" (which originally appeared in the anthology STARDUST edited by Julie E. Czerneda) to Clonepod podcast. (Yes, another story that you'll soon be able to enjoy for FREE! Gotta love that)

In all, I'm quite delighted to be back in the game again.

See, lack of sleep can be a good thing sometimes.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Best Blizzard Book

The incredible winter storm that blew through town this past weekend reminded me of a fantastic novel I had the pleasure of discovering several years ago. Susie Moloney's first novel: Bastion Falls.

I remember shelving it when I was working at the Coles at St. Laurent mall in Ottawa when it came out, and pausing to read the back cover. I was hooked immediately, bought the book and started reading it that night.

Moloney kept me spellbound from start to end with her disturbing tale.

It seems to be "temporarily out of stock" on the Chapters website, and I'm not sure if it's still in print, but this excellent book (and I still love the original cover in the Key Porter version of the novel, as opposed to the cover on the re-release by Random House) is definitely worth tracking down.

The premise is simply that one day it starts snowing and it simply doesn't stop. The residents of a small "northern town" (and if you read between the lines, you might recognize the setting as a small town on Manitoulin Island, one of the areas where this author has lived) become isolated and trapped in the high piling snow -- and of course, because it's a horror novel, something dark and evil comes stalking, hidden beneath all that snow.

Moloney went on to write two other novels (so far), and while I enjoyed them (A Dry Spell and The Dwelling), they didn't quite chill me as deeply as her first novel, which is still my favourite. Perhaps because it was so close to home.

All I know is that, by the time I had shoveled my driveway for the 7th time in 24 hours, I started thinking about that awesome Susie Moloney novel and thought how wonderful a read it would be for someone who wanted to just go inside and curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. (Of course, if you'd had enough of the snow, then perhaps this dark and chilling novel might NOT be something you'd want to read, because Moloney does bring the power of that heavy snowfall down hard on the reader)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Da Count - Gary Gygax's Gift

Gary Gygax died on March 4, 2008.

Gary, a writer and game designer, was considered the "father" of table-top roll playing games, particularly since he co-created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson.

When I'd mentioned this to a colleague who was unfamiliar with D&D, she asked if it was anything like World of Warcraft. I said, yes, it's pretty much like WoW, only it predates most computer games (given that it originated in 1974), was played using pencils and paper, a series of different sided die and occurred mostly within the minds and imaginations of the players.

I didn't play D&D, but did play the revised modification that came out in 1979 called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I participated in various "campaigns" with different groups of friends, and we would often spend entire afternoons or evenings sitting around together with soft drinks and chips or popcorn and playing AD&D.

It was fun not only learning that there could be more than a standard 6 sided die - we had 4 sided and up to 20 sided ones - now how cool is that?! The dice were used to determine all kinds of things, from creating your actual character profiles (ie, a fighter character had to have a certain score in terms of the stretch and agility aspects, while a magic user had to have a particular level of intelligence and wisdom) to deciding whether or not particular tasks could be performed successfully (you need to roll a 18 or higher on the 20 sided-die in order to dodge the dragon's flame attack -- if you roll <> 14 you get mildly burned; if you roll less than 14 but greater than 5, you get severely burned; if you roll less than 5 you're dead) during an adventure. One might think of the dice as the underlying aspects of fate or chance.

Of course, on top of the roll of the dice, much of the worlds and scenarios (and monsters) for our adventures came from a combination of the many manuals written by Gary and his colleagues (like the Monster Manual, Players Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide -- the Dungeon Master, or DM, was the narrator who guided the players through their adventures) and the imagination and mind of the DM.

In a nutshell, this role-playing game helped spark all kinds of creativity and imagination in the minds of the players. Remember, unlike video games, there weren't really that many visual things happening -- most of the adventures took place through verbal narration and in the imaginations of a group of people sitting around a table.

I even went on to write two "novels" based on characters that a friend (Tom Potts) and I had created for a series of adventures. I spent an entire summer in the basement of our home hammering out "The Story of Conan Boc" on an Underwood typewriter. (Conan Boc was Tom's barbarian character. It should be obvious where the name "Conan" came from; Boc was actually derived from the band "Blue Oyster Cult" that Tom was a huge fan of.)

"The Story of Conan Boc" would be the first novel I ever wrote. I think it came to about 20 or 30,000 words (which seemed, to my 14 year old mind, to be a pretty decent length for a novel). The following summer, I hammered out the sequel to this novel called "The Search for Aaron Boc" (you see, by then I started recognizing that I couldn't use the name Conan for my character, since that name had, kinda already been used before - so I replaced the name "Conan" with "Aaron" -- the only similarity, BTW, between the two characters, other than the fact that they were barbarians, was the name)

Both of these novels were typical teenage boy fantasy adventures - lots of sword fights, lots of slaying monsters, lots of naked women with giant breasts.

Similarly, both these novels, while they live deep in a drawer in my filing cabinet, will never be submitted to publishers or, hopefully, ever appear anywhere that people can read them. They are relatively terrible tales, complete exercises in learning as a writer. The plot was hackneyed and the writing pedantic -- but going through the exercise helped me with some elements of character development, helped me practice plot curves and structure, and definitely helped me learn the absolute commitment required to be a writer.

But I have to thank Gary for inventing this world which I lived in with many of my friends for many years and for helping inspire me to write those learning-ground fantasy adventure "novels"

Rest in peace, Gary. And thank you.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

HNT - I Love My Mac

The great and all powerful Os has decreed this week to be another theme week (okay, don't tell Osbasso I said this, but I think he's been getting a little "theme-happy" lately -- not that I don't enjoy a good challenge)

Of course, the theme is meant to be about the love one has for their Mac computer.

Well I don't have one of those. I'm a PC guy. Yes, all three computers I own are PCs.

I had been planning on posting a picture of me eating a Big Mac - because I sure do love my Macs! (But I gave them up for Lent and it would be too much temptation to buy one to take a picture with and just not eat it)

So, instead, I followed a suggestion from Francine (who is also the master of bad puns) -- who said: "Duh! Why don't you wear a Mac t-shirt for the shot?"

So I donned a Mac (McMaster) t-shirt as my way of saying "I love my Mac!" -- and I do. I really do love my place of employment. McMaster is a great academic institution, it's a fantastic place to work, and though I still have a great soft spot in my heart for Carleton University (my Alma Mater) I do actually love Mac. (Now, we don't go as far back in our relationship as the Big Mac and I go, but we're still getting to know each other - we're still in our honeymoon phase, you could say)

To go visit that cool dude theme-happy master
named Os that us HNTer's all love even more
than our "Macs" click the image below

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Paradise By The Oven Light

Last night I had the absolute best tasting meatloaf that I've ever had in my life.

All thanks to three beautiful women -- Janet & Greta Podleski and my wife Francine.

Francine, who had never made meatloaf before, decided to try the meatloaf recipe from Janet & Greta's third cookbook "Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! :Great tasting food that won't go from your lips to your hips.

This book follows their first book Looneyspoons: Low-Fat Food Made Fun and their second Crazy Plates: Low-Fat Food So Good, You'll Swear It's Bad For You -- as the subtitles reveal, all of their cookbooks are healthy recipes that are presented in a zany and entertaining fashion. Not only are the recipe titles and descriptions funny, but there are accompanying cartoons (by Ted Martin), quotes, quizzes, trivial tidbits and intriguing sidebar articles that help make the reading of the cookbook just as much fun as actually trying and tasting the recipes.

In fact, I've never had so much fun reading a cookbook cover to cover. In all honestly, the only cookbooks that I've EVER read cover to cover are the three by these brilliant ladies.

But back to the meatloaf.

The recipe, which appears on page 136 of Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! is called "All You Need Is Loaf (easy weekday meat loaf with barbecue sauce)" and the following description:

Loaf, loaf, loaf. Tired of the same ol' song and dance for dinner Eight Days a Week? Don't worry, We Can Work It Out. Here's some Help!: A recipe you just can't Beatle -- especially after A Hard Day's Night. Sure to Please Please everyone.

Anyone who knows my fondness for quoting from song lyrics and bad puns would recognize why I would want to read a cookbook cover to cover. But the rest of the recipe (which I won't quote here - sorry, you're going to have to buy the book, check out their website or check out their new television program) is simple and straightforward and is something even I could follow.

And, as I said, was simply the best meatloaf I've ever tasted. Evidence for that is the fact I didn't use a single drop of ketchup while eating the meatloaf. (Yes, another tell for anyone who knows me -- I eat ketchup with pretty much ANYTHING -- not to mask the taste, but because I'm a bit of a sauce fiend. My food has GOT to have sauce on it.) But when I first tasted the meatloaf, it was moist and delicious, and the barbecue sauce flavour in it was perfect -- so I ate it plain and loved it.

For more sampling of the fun and interesting reading provided by these two marvelous ladies, you can check out their blog. Their website does also include some sample recipes.

Of course, I not only admire these ladies for the products they have produced and the fun they inject into healthy cooking, but the story of how they achieved their success, the ultimate risks and incredible uphill climb against all odds when they decided they were going to self-publish their "Low-Fat Food Made Fun" cookbook that not a single publisher thought would go anywhere is truly inspiring. And you can read the full story (told much better through their own words) on their website here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

No Deadbeats Allowed

I've recently come to a realization about a particular element of the culture in our home. None of us (myself, Francine, or Alexander) tolerates deadbeats.

By deadbeat, I don't necessarily mean someone who doesn't pay their debts -- although I can't say I'm at all fond of people like that either. The deadbeats, in particular, that offend me and my family the most are those who fail to contribute time and effort into their family, home and to society in general.

See definition below, just to be clear.

dead-beat: [n] a loafer; a sponger (from

For example, there was a guy who used to be my neighbour who was the ultimate of deadbeats. He barely lifted a finger around the home and relied on his wife run ragged trying to keep up with the entire household of activities. He claimed he worked all week and should rest when at home (his wife worked too, both in the workforce and at home) and he was simply one of the laziest buggers I've ever known. Perfect example of his deadbeat nature was the hot summer afternoon when he was sitting in the backyard drinking beer and smoking a joint while his wife and pregnant sister were laying down the bricks for the interlaced brick driveway that -- get this -- HE insisted they have.

A more recent example of deadbeatism that irks me to no end would include the idiots who live down the street who can't be bothered to shovel the sidewalk in front of their house. And no, it's not some senior or single parent family living there -- there are no less than 4 or 5 able-bodied young and middle aged adults living in that house. All of them perfectly capable of carrying their weight. But instead, their laziness is forcing people to walk off the sidewalk and in the middle of the road -- their laziness and deadbeatism is endangering lives.

It should have been obvious to me that deadbeats would not be tolerated in our home, particularly since Alexander has always had to participate in the house cleaning activities over the years, following me around with a toy vacuum cleaner from almost since he could walk, always interested in mopping or Swiffering the floor, steaming the carpet, delighted in dusting along-side us, emptying the dishwasher, helping me make coffee, shoveling the snow, cutting the grass, working in the garden, following me around with his own toolboxes (yes, he has two of them -- another sign that he's a hard worker and needs LOTS of tools). I mean, it should have been obvious in the fact that for almost every single chore or task in our home, he has the toy equivalent (shopping cart, kitchen, BBQ, toolbench and two toolboxes, vacuum cleaner, two lawn mowers, shovels, gardening tools - if there's some sort of household work or chore involved, Alexander has a matching toy for it) And he is often the one to incite us into working - slave-driver that he is.

It might also have been obvious in the fact that our household has gone through an average of one new vacuum cleaner per year -- yes, I'm NOT kidding here -- we really do work them hard.

No, I finally came to the realization because last week, when Francine and Alexander and I were racing up the stairs, instead of yelling out the usual "Last one upstairs is a rotten egg!" I yelled out: "Last one upstairs is a deadbeat!"

All three of us were giggling, and the funniest part of it was Alexander, still three years old, pushing past us and in a panicked voice yelling out: "No, no, deadbeat; I don't want to be a deadbeat."