Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Frightening Distraction

As a writer, there are many things that can easily take away your focus on writing. And while it might sound cold, there are certainly good things in your life that steal your writing time away: things like family, friends, etc. That is one of the most challenging things about being a writer.

You have countless ideas, a burning desire to write and yet finding the time to squirrel yourself away, alone, and start typing words onto a page can remain one of the most difficult challenges.

One of the main differences between the average person and a writer isn't the ideas. Everyone has those. In my mind ideas are ultimately the EASIEST part of being a writer. If I didn't get a single new idea from now until the end of my life I'd still have thousands of stories to tell based on all the ones that have already come to me. So it's not the ideas, it's the DOING. It's the dedication to actually putting those ideas into words, crafting stories and tales -- then editing and rewriting them. That's the difference.

I love my family, my friends, love doing social activities. But every single one of them also means time not spent writing. I know it sounds like a cold thing to say. And this has been an ongoing challenge for me for the past two decades. Perhaps longer, since I remember sitting by myself in the basement on a hot summer day hammering out a "novel" on an Underwood typewriter while a group of my friends were outside laughing and splashing in the pool. The manuscript I was working on, at the age of 14, was certainly not good enough to ever see print, but there I was, plowing away at it, channeling that pent-up urge to write while sacrificing fun time with my friends.

And that's the other part about writing. I write lots, yet release only small amounts of the writing out into the world. Much of my original writing doesn't ever see the "light of day" -- it either lies dead on the "cutting room floor" or never gets tweaked to my satisfaction that any other eyes should see it. It's like an iceberg. There's a lot put into making that iceberg stick so magestically out of the water -- and most of it is hidden. Most of it happens while you're tucked away in some dark corner madly hammering out word after word after word. And when you emerge, you usually only emerge with the "good words" the polished prose to show the rest of the world.

All that time spent working on your writing, that was so hard to come by seems to produce so little actual words and stories.

The frustration continues on. You can choose family and friends or choose time spent writing. Also, having a full time day job makes those times you CAN spend writing that much more difficult to find.

I will often get up extremely early in the morning, while the rest of the household is fast asleep, just so I can spend an hour or two working on my writing.

But then, of course, comes the job. And here's the catch-22. It's important, nay CRITICAL to me to work at a job that I love. And fortunately, for the past 16 years working as a bookseller I've been doing work that I can be passionate about. Monday, for me, isn't a dreaded day. It's a joy to come in to work. Would I rather spend that time with my family or writing? Sure. But the great thing is that I actually also look forward to coming in to work -- I find work fun, interesting, challenging and motivating. I'm blessed and very fortunate to have such a fulfilling job.

Of course, there's the problem.

I really love my work -- I can be committed and passionate about my day job. And when there's more work than time in the day to get it done (as part of my job I also happen to currently sit on the Board of Directors for Booknet Canada as well as Canadian Booksellers Association, not to mention other membership involvements I have with CCRA and CSC) it means I regularly bring work home to me and have plenty of reading and other projects to do in the hours I don't actually spend at work.

Which takes more time away from my day that I could be spending writing.

I wouldn't have it any other way, of course. I mean, since you do spend an average of 60% of your waking time at your job; it's a damn good thing when you can have a career that you can actually enjoy.

But where does that leave a poor writer just trying to squeeze out some time to write?

It leaves me with less and less sleep -- that's where.

Monday, September 29, 2008

WOTS 2008 Postmortem

Although they were calling for overcast skies and drizzle throughout the day, the weather was stunning for Word on the Street 2008 in Toronto.

Some of Sèphera's fun decorations for the booth

After a delightful ride into town on the GO Train, I met Sèphera Girón at about 9:30 at the Horror Writers Association booth in the Writer's Block. She had already unloaded her vehicle of all the supplies, etc and I helped her finish putting up the decorations.

Slated to begin at 11 AM, the crowds actually started before that. How could book lovers resist? It was a gorgeous Sunday morning, after all, and no shortage of great booths to check out.

Sèphera Girón at the HWA booth just before it all began

I was only there until about 1 PM, but in that time had a chance to meet several old friends and colleagues as well as meet some other folks who are members of HWA.

I also managed to hand out 100 copies of a chapbook style booklet featuring a free copy of my short story "Being Needed" which was originally published in the anthology Bluffs in 2006. "Being Needed" is a subtle ghost story that seems to easily cross the boundary between horror and straight literary fiction. (At least in my mind anyway -- perhaps there's too much of an actual plot and focus on characters with a "goal" to properly enter the literary world. Hmm, can you tell that I'm a bit of a "snob" and like my stories straightforward and with an actual purpose and plot? That's right, give me a nice solid horror tale any day over a navel-gazing meandering exercise in slapping prose on a page just for the sake of doing so.)

In any case the day was a success. If it hadn't been for appointments and chores that needed doing back in Hamilton, I would have spent the whole day there. Ah well, at least I was able to be there for the morning and the opening rush -- and I had a chance to chat with lots and lots of people interested in writing and interested in horror.

James Roy Daley and Peter Halasz

And one really cool thing about the day was that because I took the train I was able to write on my way in to and back from Toronto. I got 2000 words written on A Canadian Werewolf in New York, a novel I've been, sadly, ignoring to other shorter writing projects since the beginning of the summer.

The booth near 1 PM -- busy, but you can still see Seph through the crowd

I'm thinking I might want to take the train into Toronto every once in a while just to keep working on the novel. 1000 words each way. Not bad at all.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Word On The Street 2008

Tomorrow (Sunday Sept 28th, 2008), Queen's Park in Toronto will transform into a book lover's paradise with a marketplace of more than 258 book and magazine exhibits, more than that many authors, poets and storytellers and close to 200 readings, workshops and other events.

WORD ON THE STREET is Canada's largest book and magazine festival and it's FREE.

I will be in the Horror Writer's Association booth along with authors such as Sèphera Girón, Nancy Kilpatrick, Michael Colangelo, Jason White, Joel Arnold, Derek Clendening and James Roy Daley. Authors will be in the booth throughout the day signing their work, sharing information about HWA, chatting with fans and offering advice to writers.

I've been an affiliate member of HWA for a couple of years now and am amazed at the benefits of belonging to such an organization. I've been in contact and discussion with so many talented writers from around the globe, sharing advice, information and tips about the craft as well as the market. I put off becoming a member for several years because I was waiting until I made enough professional sales to be declaired an Active member -- and I sincerely regret doing that because of how much more in touch I've been with my colleagues since I joined up a couple of years ago. The information and advice alone that I now have access to are going to help me achieve Active status that much sooner.

Becoming a member of a writer's group like this really does allow a writer (who often wiles away many hours alone in a dark room hammering out words on a keyboard) an opportunity to connect with other writers and mentors and benefit from shared wisdom and experience.

I'm going to have about 100 or so free chapbooks to hand out featuring a story I recently had published in an anthology -- I'll be there for the morning as well as an hour or two into the early afternoon.

The HWA booth is in the Writers Block and is booth WB3.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Da Count - Hurts So Good

This week at work we're wrapping up the first week of our semi-annual HURT PENGUINS sale at Titles.

"HURT PENGUINS" are an industry term for books that have a bit of shelf live. Perhaps a nick in the corner, a bend or tear, missing a cover jacket, etc. We buy them by the skidload and price them at clearance prices.

And because you don't really know what you're going to get in a skid of these books, it's always great when you crack the boxes open and find some really great books that you know you can price at rock bottom pricing.

It has been a fun week of seeing people flocking into the store and browsing through a selection of thousands of different titles, many of them priced as low as 99 cents.

Usually clothing sales attract a huge crowd, so it's delightfully refreshing to see people excited and interested in getting a good deal on books. As I've watched people browse and grin at the books they've found, it has made me feel great.

And the great selection of titles this year (the best selection I've seen so far, in fact) has meant that I've seen more customers than ever before walking away with armloads of books and excited about what they were able to find at such low prices.

It warms this old book nerd's heart.

Therefore, I'm counting the fact that I not only get to be surrounded by books every single day (a phenomenal thing I'll always cherish), but that during cool sales like this I get to watch the smiles on faces of countless customers who discover wonderful little treasures at fantastic prices.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

HNT - The Shirt, The Cause, The Day

On Wednesday October 1st, my store is taking part in a cross-Canada fund raiser with 22 other campus bookstores called: THE SHIRT, THE CAUSE, THE DAY.

"The Cause" - 22 university and college bookstores have partnered with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to raise money to support breast cancer research by selling a "breast aware" t-shirt on Wednesday October 1st, 2008, which is the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"The Shirt" - is a black t-shirt with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation logo and the school name on it. All of the participating stores will be selling this shirt for $10 each. None of these stores will keep any profit from the sales of these shirts - once manufacturing & distribution costs are paid, all remaining money goes to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

"The Day" is October 1st, 2008. On this day, all of the partner campus stores will be putting this shirt on sale at their respective University or College campuses.

It's a great cause, and I'm very proud that we're involved in showing that McMaster Cares.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good Point!

I just found out that Flashpoint, a television program about the Strategic Response Unit of a police force, has been renewed for another season.

Nice to see excellence is appreciated.

Inspired by Toronto's Emergency Task Force, the show is about a hand-picked team of elite police officers. It airs on CTV and CBS.

Here are the main things I like about this show. It is created and produced in Canada -- and unlike many other cop shows that have been filmed here in Canada, the direction doesn't try to hide that it is set in Toronto.

I also love the fact that the show isn't all about how the police are perfect bad guys going after the scum of society. In this show, the villains aren't necessarily villains -- they are wonderfully three dimensional people with backgrounds, desires, wishes, hopes, dreams and frustration. And the SRU doesn't treat them as "perps" but rather as fellow humans in a situation that needs to be resolved with the least amount of casualties as possible, including the life of the person causing the situation.

One of the best illustrations of this is that the cops don't refer their quarry as "perps" but rather as "subjects" -- it's a fanastically humanizing factor that allows them to properly connect and talk with the person who is caught in a situation that is often as terrifying for the "subject" as it is for the "victims"

Kudos to all the people behind Flashpoint - and kudos to the networks for recognizing it's worth staying on the air another season

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Summer At Supper

Last night while having supper, Francine, Alexander and I discussed each of our favourite memories from this past summer. While we all agreed that we did plenty of fun things, we tried to come up with what one of our favourite moments from this past summer was.

For me, it the afternoon we all spent in Science North, particularly when we built the giant skyscraper of Lego Duplo blocks.

Francine suggested the afternoon we had a picnic in the park in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Alexander said that his favourite memory from the summer was cutting the lawn with Daddio.

Why am I not surprised?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Da Count - Sing Me A Rush Lullaby, Dad

When Alexander was a baby and had trouble falling to sleep, I used to sing to him.

I found that songs sung in a soothing fashion would often lull him into a gentle sleep. There are only so many classic lullaby songs a man can go through, so after one or two of the "standards" I would often switch over to some other songs that I knew really well.

I would regularly sing Are you Lonesome Tonight? famously covered by Elvis, Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers and If I Had a Million Dollars by Bare-Naked Ladies.

Of course, I pretty much know the lyrics to most of the songs by Rush, so there were a few Rush ballads that I ended up singing to him on a regular basis. Madrigal, Tears and Closer to the Heart.

is one of my favourites for a bedtime lullby. One of Rush's shortest recorded songs, here's how it begins:

When the dragons grow too mighty
To slay with pen or sword

I grow weary of the battle

And the storm I walk toward

When all around is madness

And there's no safe port in view

I long to turn my path homeward

To stop awhile with you

- from "Madrigal" by Rush from A FAREWELL TO KINGS (1977)
Interestingly, Alexander loves listening to Rush, particularly when we're driving somewhere together. Of course, his favourite would be the opening sequence (or the opening two movements if you prefer) from 2112 (Overture and The Temples of Syrinx). We always have a grand time blasting that in the car and doing both air guitar and air drums to it. There's also a "basement rec room" version that we do where I crank it on the stereo and manipulate three different lights in time to the music.

However, with the exception of the sequence "Discovery" where the hero in 2112 finds the ancient guitar and starts gently playing on it, the song 2112 is a hard-hitting rock song that wakes a person up, doesn't gently settle them down.

And back to the concept of settling down, a few nights ago, when he was having trouble sleeping, Alexander spoke quietly from the darkness of his room. "Sing to me, Dad." That was interesting. He hadn't asked me to sing for a long time. Usually, he would ask me to tell him a story. But this time he wanted a song.

"What would you like me to sing?" I asked.

"A Rush lullaby."

Sigh. For a long-time Rush nerd, does life get any better than that?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

HNT - Ghost Walk

I'm delighted to be hosting an upcoming ghost walk and horror author extravaganza at Titles Bookstore, McMaster University.

Dubbed "Haunted McMaster" we have joined forces with the good people behind Haunted Hamilton's Ghost Walks to present a fantastic evening of free macabre entertainment.

Along with a free guided custom tour of the McMaster campus by one of Haunted Hamilton's ghostly tour guides, Titles bookstore will be hosting 9 different authors each doing a talk/reading from their work.

The inspiration behind the event came to me when I read an advance reading copy of Brian Keene's novel GHOST WALK a couple of months ago.

Set in the town of LeHorn's Hollow, this follow up to DARK HOLLOW takes place on a haunted attraction. As Halloween approaches, folks appear from miles around to check out Ken Ripple's spooky ghost trail, which is set in a wooded area believed to actually be haunted. And, as you would expect from a horror novel, there really is something evil and dark lurking in the woods.

I was pretty sure that Brian, with a young baby in the house and dozens of projects on the go, likely wouldn't be able to make it all the way up to Hamilton, Ontario, for the event.

But I figured since his fiction inspired the event, I should at least try to involve him some way.

So I worked with his publisher to get some signed copies of GHOST WALK and several other titles by Brian to use as special door prize giveaways during the event. That, and we're also launching a special "buy GHOST WALK and win a real ghost walk" promotion -- between September 22 and October 31, if you buy Keene's GHOST WALK or DARK HOLLOW or any of the books featured in our author extravaganza on October 10, you'll be automatically entered into a draw to win free tickets to a full length Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walk.

The event, which takes place as Titles Bookstore (Gilmour Hall, McMaster University - 1280 Main Street West in Hamilton) begins on October 10, 2008 at 7 PM will include the above mentioned ghost tours of campus and feature readings/talks/book signings by the following authors:

  • Kelley Armstrong - author of the bestselling "The Women of the Otherwold" and "The Darkest Powers" series
  • John Robert Colombo - "Canada's Mr. Mystery" and author of "The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories"
  • Richard Gavin - author of "Omens"
  • Sèphera Girón - author of "Borrowed Flesh" "House Magic" and "Hungarian Rhapsody"
  • Michael Kelly - author of "Scratching the Surface" and contributor to The Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories 1 and 2
  • Gregory Lamberson - author of "Johnny Gruesome"
  • Gord Rollo - author of "Jigsaw Man"
  • Simon Strantzas - author of "Beneath the Surface" and contributor to The Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories 1 and 2
  • Edo van Belkom - author of the Aurora Award & Silver Birch Award winning "Wolf Pack" series and "Be Afraid: Tales of Horror"

This should be a fantastic evening of fun and chills with readings and talks from a wonderful selection of writers. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

So, thank you, Brian. Both for the inspiration for this event as well as for continuing to scare me shitless . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Late last week I accomplished the first half of a goal I had set for myself in mid August.

I lost 20 pounds.

It took me just about two months to do so, averaging about 10 pounds per month. Not bad.

Now I have another 20 pounds to go.

I set the goal after a freaky little health scare that occurred back in August. Things turned out to be okay, but after considering that my overall odds were better if I maintained a proper weight, and realizing I was 40 pounds overweight, I set the goal to get that weight off and keep it off.

To illustrate the point -- I'm 6 foot 3 inches and weighed 240 lbs. That represents a BMI (body mass index) of about 30. Body Mass Index is defined as the individual's body weight divided by the square of their height. A BMI of 30 and above represents obesity.

I'm now hovering near 220 lbs, which represents a BMI of 27.5. Still overweight.

I'm continuing to work toward 200 lbs (BMI of 25) which is still just above the "normal" range and considered in the overweight category -- I might be better served to shoot for 195; however, 200 is a nice round number, and while BMI is a relatively good index of obesity, it doesn't actually measure body fat -- and taller people typically report a BMI that is uncharaceristically higher than their actual body fat levels. About the only place I'm carrying a lot of fat around is on my stomach and waist -- and while that stomach is still there (although I don't look quite as pregnant as I did two months ago), I have seen it drop significantly.

To reach this goal I haven't done anything dramatic. I have merely done a few things:

1) Regular exercise - I've been trying to get on the treadmill 3 times per week, running and walking for a minimum of 20, preferably 30 minutes. I'm now back up to 3 Kilometer runs - it has been 4 years since I could regularly run 5 K during a 30 - 45 minute workout session. When I'm on the treadmill I keep trying to push myself to beat the distance from my previous session. (AND, I'm listening to audio novels on my mp3 player while doing so -- so it's accomplishing two great things -- exercise and getting more "reading" done)

2) Stop just throwing food indicriminantly into my mouth. Francine noted that I would often just toss stuff into my mouth without being aware what I was doing. A cookie here, the crust off Alexander's bread there -- all those little "empty" calories really do add up

3) Increase my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and water -- (ie, filling those cravings with foods that are good for me and don't pack on unnecessary calories)

That's pretty much it. I've also slightly decreased my intake of bread products (not completely, because I love bread too much -- just limiting my portions) and I'm also making simple yet crucial decisions about what I'd like to consume. For example, would I rather have a slice of chocolate cake or drink a beer?

Anyone who knows me knows I'll be opting for the beverage.

And that's the great thing about this simple structure I'm following -- I'm watching the food I'm eating and eating more healthy -- but I'm still allowing myself to drink beer whenever I want.

And I'm losing those extra pounds.

If all goes well, by the end of October I should be nearing or at the 200 lb mark.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Black Ink Horror XXX

I was pleased many months ago when Black Ink Horror editor Tom Moran accepted my short story "Switch" to appear in an upcoming issue of his magazine. At the time of the acceptance, Tom told me that it would appear in Issue #5.

But I was delightfully surprised to learn that it has since been moved into the special full-color XXX issue which is limited to 100 copies.

"Switch" is the story of a psychiatrist who, in attempting to cure a misogynistic patient, undergoes an experimental treatment in which their consciousness switches bodies.

The story is an erotically charged tale with some very brutal and extremely adult content. To date, it's my nastiest published work, and I can't wait to see how it looks in this special edition of Black Ink Horror.

Here are the details from the publisher's website about Black Ink Horror XXX which is available for pre-order:

This special, full-color edition of Black Ink Horror is devoted to horror stories of the extreme variety. Sex and gore abound in this 50 page, highly collectible edition. Each of the five tales is accompanied by three illustrations. This one is not for the prudish or easily offended--we cut our artist loose on XXX, and they left nothing to the imagination. For added collectibility, this issue will be printed by Chris Hedges of Insidious Publications ( http://www.insidiouspublications.com/ ) fame. Chris prints and binds all of his books by hand, and his work is just stunning.

NOTE: Tony Karne's cover art was so sick, we had to blur some of the action to make it clean enough to post on line. The real covers will NOT be blurred....

XXX is limited to only 100 copies. We expect this one to sell out quickly, so be sure to reserve your copy ASAP. We expect the books to ship in late August/ Early September.

50 pages / 8 x 5 / Saddle stitched / COLOR!

[EDIT: Switch is now available as an ebook for 99 cents]


Friday, September 12, 2008

Da Count - School With Dad

Last night in the midst of starting the lawn cutting activities for the day, I remembered an important errand I was supposed to have taken care of at work. Given that the day had been filled with tons of distractions, I didn't remember until close to 7 PM.

But when I did, Alexander and I jumped in the truck and headed down to McMaster to take care of things.

Our store is open this time of year until 9 PM to ensure that students have ample time to get their course materials and other needs. When Alexander got there we skirted on and off the sales floor and through several areas that are off limits to most people who visit the bookstore on campus.

During our visit, I was impressed at how much Alexander remembered about his many previous visits, and how animated he gets when he talks about going to dad's work.

And I was delightfully reminded of the times I spent going to the school with my own dad when I was a young lad. My father was the chief custodian at Levack District High School, and often when the school was closed (particularly during the Christmas to New Years break), he would visit, do a quick tour, check the furnace to ensure it was running properly, and just do some basic rounds.

I loved visiting the school with him -- it was a great treat. Though I wasn't in high school yet, I had visited most of the high school and seen rooms that most other students attending LDHS would never seen in all their years there.

Some times, when my dad's work would take more than fifteen minutes or so, I'd get to go into the gym and shot basketballs while waiting for him to finish. It was fun, but also a bit early to be inside this large building and huge empty room with no other sounds than the echo of my footfalls and the bouncing ball. (The stuff of a good horror story, methinks)

In any case, this week I'm counting the multi-generational concept of heading to the school with dad. Also, given that today is also Hamilton boy Neil Peart's birthday (drummer and lyricist for Rush), I should end this post with an appropriate quote used in the song Circumstances from the Hemispheres album: "Plus ca chance, plus c'est la meme chose." (The more that things change, the more they stay the same)


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Project 2996 - Sept 11, 2008

For the past couple of years I have participated in Project 2996 -- a collaborative effort made by bloggers all over the world to remember and celebrate the lives of the 2996 people who lost their lives on Sept 11, 2001.

In the past two years I took some time to remember Raymond Meisenheimer and Deora Francis Bodley. (Click on the links of their names to read my posts about these two unique individuals)

This year, I'd like to remember David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst.

David was 3 years old when he and his two adoptive fathers Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa lost their lives on United Flight 175. The family was returning from Boston to Los Angeles, where they lived.

Daniel Brandhorst was 41 years old and worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Ronald Gamboa was 33 and managed a Gap store in Santa Monica.

David, their son, who was adopted in 1998, was named after Daniel's brother. The young lad shared both the spirit and intellectual curiosity of his two daddies.

Given the fact that society still hasn't properly accepted the fact that two people of the same sex can love and cherish each other, Daniel and Ronald had to not only overcome all the usual slings and arrows a couple overcomes to get together, but had to also overcome those extra hurdles thrown at them by society.

But they did it, and they did it successfully.

They also overcame the societal obstacles in their desire to be fathers, to unconditionally love a child. And by all accounts, they were wonderful fathers to young David, a bright, loving and curious child with a whole world of possibilities ahead of him.

I have shed tears thinking about the loss of David and his two fathers, but Project 2996 isn't about bemoaning a loss, it is about celebrating the lives of those lost of September 11, 2001.

Their triumph is proof that love reigns strong, that love can conquer all, and that love endures. Let this love they showed, to each other and to their beautiful little boy, be an example to the rest of us. And may we never forget that important lesson.

None of the victims will be forgotten so long as we remember them.

HNT - Book Heist

It's been expectedly busy at the bookstore these past couple of weeks. Back to school always brings long days, endless hours of helping first year students find their appropriate course materials, and unpacking carton after carton of textbooks.

We call it the September Rush -- and it's definitely a rush -- a rush of activity, a rush of text material, a rush of students. (Yet, sadly, no Geddy, Alex and Neil)

Early last week, during some welcome week activities, a group of students on a scavenger hunt had to acquire a picture of themselves stealing books. They asked if I would pose with them, pretending to be chasing a group of them attempting to steal books.

Fun pics and a good group of kids.

FYI, despite the angry look on my face and the big stick I was swinging, no students and no course materials were hurt in the staging of these photographs.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Characters You Never Saw

Francine and I were watching a re-run of Home Improvement the other night. One of the continuing bits from the show we remembered enjoying was Tim's neighbour Wilson, the wise eccentric man next door who always offered Tim advice over the fence in his back yard.

(Often, the advice was completely over the top of Tim's head -- one of the funny recurring bits from this was that while offering the advice, Wilson often quoted a line from some ancient philosopher, and later in the episode, while Tim was attempting to regurgitate it, he would get the quote completely wrong in some hilarious fashion)

Because Tim mostly saw Wilson over the backyard fence, you only ever saw the top of his head and his eyes -- you never saw his whole face.

They continued with that motif whenever Wilson appeared in the series even outside of the "back yard" setting -- where either his face would be hidden behind some sort of prop, or, as I remember, during a Halloween episode, was completely covered in face paint.

Thinking about Wilson made me remember other television characters that you perhaps never actually saw, but whom played some sort of role in the show.

The first I could think of was Charlie from the original television series Charlie's Angels. In this series, Charlie (whose voice was played by John Forsythe) was the mysterious boss who would offer assignments to the main characters over a two-way radio.

You never saw him. Okay, minor correction. There were a few episodes in which you saw Charlie, either his back or from a distance -- but you never did see his face. And it continued to perturb the angels because they never saw him either.

Of course, one of the longest running characters you never saw could likely be Norm's wife Vera from Cheers. Norm was one of the main characters, a perpetual barfly who spent most of his waking hours on the very same stool in the Boston bar. There were numerous references made to his wife Vera -- so much so that she became a recurring character in the show, included in actual plot situations.

But, masterfully, you never actually saw Vera.

Okay, let me correct myself -- there was actually an episode or two that I remember seeing Vera Peterson in. You see Vera's legs in one episode, and in a Thanksgiving episode, the only time you see her, her face is covered by pie.

There was at least one moment during the long running television series in which you heard her voice -- on an answering machine. And here's an interesting trivial fact -- the voice of Vera was played by Bernadette Berkett, actor George Wendt's real-life wife)

Of course, one of the most memorable and actual "real" characters you never see came in the sequel to Cheers, the similarly long-running Frasier.

Nile's wife Maris was, like Vera, often talked about, but pretty much never seen. Like Vera, she was the butt of many jokes -- but, unlike Vera, Maris was used much more in the plotline of episodes of Frasier, as Niles eventually divorced Maris and she ended up causing no end of troubles in his life and did feature prominently in many of the episodes.

There were a few times that her character appeared on screen, but, in classic "Vera" style, you never did see her. One time she was completely covered in bandages, and the other time she was hiding in a large crate.

Yet, despite her non-appearance, it was fascinating how much of an effect this off-screen character could have. There were messages from Maris to Niles (like a tossed glass of champagne in his face), there was the whole divorce and the continuing emotional rollercoaster nightmare following it, and of course the fact that she is wanted for murdering her boyfriend.

It's amazing how much these characters who never really appeared in a television show could stand up to the test of time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Da Count - Giving Back To Web 2.0

Today's society is so used to getting so many things for free from the internet. We're very privileged and I think that we often took advantage of free services, free information and free entertainment a lot more than we even take time to acknowledge or give back to.

Because the range of free information, services and entertainment is so vast and varied, I thought I'd hone in on just a small range of services that I regularly take advantage of and appreciate tremendously.

The Writing Show (Podcast for Writers)
- Offering information and inspiration for writers, this podcast features interviews with authors from various types of writing (ie, different genres and a variety of different forms of writing) as well as instructive advice and tips on honing your writing skills.

Ralan's Webstravaganza (Writing Market Information)
An easily searchable, browseable listing of various speculative and humour fiction markets updated regularly.

Podiobooks.com (Podcast - Entertainment)
Free serialized audio books. Tons of great free books you can subscribe to and download. A great way to discover authors you might not have already heard of.

These are JUST THREE of the free services and entertainment offerings from Web 2.0 that I regularly enjoy and take advantage of. There are more. But I thought I'd pause to acknowledge these three for now and suggest a way that I might be able to help ensure they keep running.

I sincerely believe that the average person, like me, can give back, give thanks and show appreciation for those things being offered.

And here's what you can and should do for each service you enjoy and regularly benefit from.

1) Let them know. Send the creator/owner/originator an appreciative email or leave a comment letting them know how much you appreciate what they're doing and what it means to you.

2) Spread the love. If you enjoy it, let others know about it. Tell friends, colleagues, etc. Post about it on your own blog or social networking platform so others can learn about it and benefit from it.

3) Donate. Donating just $1.00 via an easy and secure method such as PayPal goes a long way.

Consider this. Most of the people operating these free services are doing it as a labour of love. It's something they believe in and believe others will benefit from. And they're often putting endless hours into it and perhaps the only benefit they're reaping is perhaps learning that others appreciate it.

So if half of everyone who benefited from using the services donated $1.00 every six months or perhaps even just once a year, even THAT would go a long way towards helping ensure they could afford to keep the services running.

I recently learned that one of the services I donated $1.00 to gets over 100,000 hits per year. If just 1 in 10 people donated $1 to that service, this would offer the person running it enough money to pay for the server space and other incidental costs that they incur by putting countless hours of their energy and passion into providing a service that benefits others.

I would therefore like to propose to the internet community an annual "free service donation day." Set it on the 15th of a month. Why not the forthcoming 15th of October? Maybe call it the "Ides of October" or "Web 2.0 Thanksgiving" or something like that -- and on that day, take a few minutes to acknowledge one or more of the free internet services you enjoy, spread the love about them and donate $1.00 towards the service. Perhaps pick one or pick your favourite three.

In the examples I'm using here, donating $1.00 to the services I have acknowledged would cost me $3.00. Not much. About a cup of coffee. And how many hours of entertainment and information have those three services brought me over the years? Gee, that's a ton of stuff I'm getting for a measly $3.00. But wow, my $3.00 could go a long way if even half or a quarter of the people who benefited from these services offered.

It's a simple concept. Doesn't cost much. And it could make a world of difference for the person or persons offering that free service to help them keep it running so that we can continue to benefit from them. Think about it. Give it a shot.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

HNT- Islands In The Stream

Yesterday was the birthday of an old friend from high school whom I haven't seen in at least 12 years or so. When I saw (on Facebook -- gotta love the fact that this social networking tool gives you the chance to note and wish friends a happy birthday) that it was Jane's birthday and wanted to write something witty on her "wall" I remembered that back in high school we had entered an "air band" contest as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton singing "Islands in the Stream."

Of course, back in grade 12 I had a beard -- so all I needed to do was add a little of that special "grey" (or "gray" if you're in the US) spray to my hair and beard, throw on a sport jacket and a pair of jeans and I was Kenny. Jane found an old "country girl" style dress, threw a couple of balloons under her dress for good measure, and she was Dolly. The picture below is from the 1987 LDHS (Levack District High School) yearbook.

We didn't win.

But we had a good time. And rehearsing was a hoot because every time we tried to look lovingly into each other's eyes during key moments in the song one of us would inevitably crack up and we'd have to start over. (Hmm, perhaps that's why the yearbook photo of us performing the song shows us with our eyes closed).

Jane and I both ended up living in Ottawa after high school and hung around with the same group of friends while in college. For a lark, we reprised the role at one of the group parties/dances. That was fun, too. Every time I hear this song on the radio, it makes me laugh and think about the fun we had.

And when I hear the song, or think about the day this photo was taken, there's another fun memory that always comes to mind. My teacher and friend, Jim Turcott was, naturally, the DJ behind the scenes of this air band contest. As his side-kick at the time, I'd been helping him set up and tear down the production that afternoon. I remember Jim kept laughing every time he looked at me across the large giant speaker we were carrying (I still had all my make-up on after the performance and these speakers were so large that as we were carrying them all you could really see of the other guy was his head, neck and shoulders over the top of the speaker) -- that set us both into giggling fits enough that a few times, weak from laughter, we almost dropped the speakers.

After we'd slid the speakers into the back of his van, and sat to take a quick break, I asked him what was so funny. He flashed a wry grin and said. "It's just startling to see you like this. At least I have a good idea of what you'll look like when you're forty."

I'm not quite forty yet, but Jim was pretty close in his observation. The last time I grew a beard, there was a heck of a lot of grey mixed into it.

Of course, we were both wrong about the hair; since I've lost most of it since I was 17.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmm

The CCRA (Canadian Campus Retail Association) has just launched Weird Blame -- a campaign to try to set the record straight on the confusion regarding the high cost of textbooks and other issues related to course materials that continue to frustrate students.

After several decades of trying to work through the same issues year after year, the group of CCRA stores (a network of over 20 university and college stores located across Canada) thought it was time to use a bit of humour and a chance for students to win some really cool prizes (like a Segway Personal Transporter) to set the record straight.

This one minute video (which appears at www.weirdblame.com) kicks off thought processes by highlighting the very strange market forces by which the textbook industry operates.

Check out the video, take the short quiz and if you are a student enrolled in a Canadian post-secondary institution, then don't miss the opportunity to enter for YOUR chance to win some great and truly strange/weird prizes.