Thursday, February 26, 2009

HNT - I'm On A Roll

It's "RRRoll up the rim to win" time again at Tim Hortons.

There are two seasons in Canada.

"Roll up the Rim" season at Timmy's and the rest of the year.

No seriously. Especially in Hamilton, you can tell it's that time of year not because of any television or radio ads or billboards or other signage. No, you can tell because the tell-tale cups are in everyone's hand no matter where you go. It's like judging what time of year it is by the Christmas lights going up on every second house in the neighbourhood.

Everywhere I went yesterday, every second hand is clutching, not a normal coloured Tim Hortons cup, but a specially designed cup that offers the chance to win. And the design of this cup is so distinct that you can spot one from at least a mile off.

I haven't seen a swearing in of new Canadians ceremony in a long time, but I'm beginning to suspect that instead of pinning a tiny Canadian flag pin on them, they should simply thrust a Tim Horton's cup into their hand. "There you go, sir, you're officially Canadian now. "

And I'm not kidding when I say that they're everywhere. For example, yesterday, during Ash Wednesday ceremonies, the priest was marking people's foreheads with black ashes in one hand and holding a Roll up the Rim cup in the other. I could have also sworn I saw a cup sitting on the desk beside Peter Mansbridge on The National last night. I think I even saw Steven Page, though walking in the other direction, and away from his former band mates, Barenaked Ladies, holding, yes, you guessed it, a Timmy's RRRoll up the rim cup in his hand. He might be turning his back on20 years of incredible success with BNL, but he won't give up his Tim Hortons coffee.

In any case, yesterday I forgot to bring coffee in to work with me, so I ended up buying a couple.

And with each double double, and eventual rrroll, I won a free cup.


I'm on a roll. Or should I say RRRoll?

So, in honour of RRRoll up the Rim season here, I'm rrrolling up a picture of me from a few years back sitting with a coffee in hand for HNT. (For what it's worth, though it's not an official rrroll up the rim cup, that IS Tim Horton's coffee in the cup. We buy it for home brewing.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

100 Terrifying New England Tales

The other day I received my copy of the Northern Haunts anthology from Shroud Publishing edited by Tim Deal that contains my short story "The Shadow Men."

Subtitled "100 Terrifying New England Tales" the book was created to be the perfect campfire companion, a guidebook for a journey through the shadowy New England otherworld.

Each story is told in the first person so that the reader can employ the book as a fire-side ghost story reference book. Editor Tim Deal, in the introduction says he would love to see this collection of stories become a living document where the reader takes the stories and situations and adapts them to fit their own personal situation to be told around campfires in order to tantalize, thrill and frighten the reader.

I had fun writing a short short specific to the guidelines for this collection.

"The Shadow Men" was actually derived from a scene from a story I had published quite a while ago (Erratic Cycles), in which I equate the haunting call of the loon with a sort of bogeymen of the wilderness whose sole purpose is to lure curious kids deeper into the forest and away from the safety of their parents. In "Erratic Cycles" I mentioned these shadowy creatures in a short childhood flash-back scene, and thought it would be fun to explore them again, this time from a first-person perspective geared specifically for the guidelines of this anthology.

But all I was really doing was exploring the fact that, though I absolutely love the beautifully haunting sound of the call of a loon echoing across the lake, at how, when I was younger, hearing that sound once the sun started to set, put a very distinct chill in my bones.

"The Shadow Men" is my attempt to put that same chill into the reader.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

HNT - Nekkid Espresso

We're doing inventory at work this week. Which means it's a pretty crazy, busy week.

However, we got ahead of schedule a bit yesterday, which meant I had some time to spend working on replacing the motor of the de-curler unit on the main printer of our Espresso Book Machine. (This is the part of the device that keeps the paper, which runs through the printer at an extremely high speed through a dozen or so roller units, smooth and straight. In a nutshell, uncurled)

So, I took some time to open up the side of the machine and have a look at replacing the motor. Despite my general lack of knowledge in taking apart mechanical and electric devices, I didn't do a bad job. Below is one of the pictures I took on my Palm Treo prior to replacing the plug.

I took the picture and drew a quick sketch of which of the seven wires went where so I could assemble the new one in the same manner. Of course, the Palm Treo isn't made for taking close-up "macro" type pictures, so it's a good thing I also sketched the layout of the wires.

Otherwise I would have messed up getting the wires back together properly.

Not a bad job for an amateur.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Family Pajama Day

We spent most of today in our pajamas.

It's like one of the patented "Hugh Hefner" days that Alexander and I enjoy having. I call them "Hugh Hefner" days because, in Hef style, we lazily lounge around the house all day in our pajamas.

Except, on this particular day, Family Day 2009 (Ontario has declared this particular Monday "Family Day" and it is a provincial holiday), wasn't just a pajama day -- it was a LEGO day.

A good portion of the day (almost 3 straight hours at least) was spent constructing the various LEGO sets from the City LEGO that Alexander started acquiring about 6 months ago.

It's quite amazing to see the cool setup that can be made from the various construction sets in the City LEGO models.

And while I'm a bit disappointed that, unlike the LEGO of my childhood, the modern LEGO sets seem to be a bit less geared towards "free" creative build (most of the new sets use so many specialty pieces and there isn't as much flexibility in terms of using the pieces to make things of your own creation), I'm quite delighted to be toiling with those little coloured bricks again.

LEGO rocks! A day with the family, rocks!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sleep With One Eye Open

It's like something out of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" song, inviting you to sleep with one eye open, clutching your pillow tight.

The other day, after waking, my four year old was complaining that his eyes were sore because during the night the Sandman had spread salt into his eyes.

I asked him to explain.

Alexander went on to explain how, at night, The Sandman comes into your room and spreads salt into your eyes to help you sleep. He used the term "spread" rather than "sprinkle" in a wonderful re-imagination of the mythology.

And, of course, he used "salt" rather than "sand."

I'm betting that this mythology from my four year old's mind comes from the fact that we live in a northern climate and he has witnessed the fact that the winter service trucks (salt trucks) often use a mixture of salt and sand to melt ice and offer better traction on the roads. This is particularly important the further north you go because the temperatures are often so cold that the friction of the sand is more important than the salt, which requires closer to freezing temperatures to actually work. Thus, "salt" and "sand" are easily interchangeable in his mind. It makes sense to me (having grown in a more northern climate than where I now live)

I explained to him how The Sandman spreads magical sand that helps put us to sleep.

I left out the technical explanation of the more technical term of Rheum which is a medical term for the natural watery mucus discharged from the eyes -- or perhaps more commonly known as matter, sleepydust, sleep, lagaƱas, eye boogers, sleepers, sleepies, sleepy men, eye gunk - (Thanks, Wikipedia).

But I think I much prefer his version of the mythology. And I'm curious, particularly given his passion for trucks, that he didn't explain how The Sandman left his big service vehicle parked outside and running while he nipped into the house to spread his sand. I could almost feel the throbbing of the still-running engine vibrating through the house from The Sandman's vehicle parked, running, at the curb in front of our house, a bit nervous about looking outside and seeing the dark frosted glass of the front window preventing you from seeing inside the cab.

It does inspire some interesting imagery, though.

Perhaps I'll use the concept in a short story one day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

HNT - Valentine Memory

I recently won a local radio contest where they asked people to tell the story of how you first met your sweetheart. The prize was a tour of the famous Walker's Chocolate factory AND a $100 gift certificate to romance their Valentines with the exquisite taste of Walker's chocolate hearts, roses, luscious truffles and famous Mint Meltaways!!

When entering the story I submitted the tale of how Francine and I first met as counselors/instructors at an academic camp at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Called "Campus Camp"(an alternative to the usual summer sports camps), students would enroll in two week sessions where they would take one of two "subject area" tracks where they could learn more about different areas that Carleton University had to offer and was taught by students who had studied in these areas -- courses included Architecture, Law, Biology, Journalism, Business, Chemistry, Music and Drama.

I taught the drama program at Carleton's Campus Camp for 3 years and can honestly say that those were three of the best summers of my life. The students I taught were incredible -- many of them displaying incredible talent in theatre, writing and acting. I often wonder what happened to many of those students and can only imagine how a real teacher feels having seen so many developing minds come through their class.

I'm actually still in contact with one of the students who attended my class and who grew up to become a successful writer/playwright -- we maintained a correspondence while she was growing up and it was fantastic to share in her amazing successes and accomplishments over the years. There's a brief article, one of the only remaining remnants of Carleton's Campus Camp that I could find on the internet, here.

In any case, during the first meeting of counselor/instructors in my second summer of teaching at Campus Camp, I jokingly said that I had called the meeting to order because I was looking for a girlfriend and potential wife. Francine, whom I hadn't met before that day, put up her hand and said "Sign me up!"

Despite a mutual attraction that summer as we got to know each other, we had both been dating other people while remaining friends, so it wasn't until much later that our friendship actually evolved into something more serious. But I think it's really neat how the joking we'd been doing on that first day we met ended up coming to pass.

Therefore, in honour of the tale of how Francine and I met, I'm posting a picture (taken in Ottawa) of Fran and I for this week's HNT post. (And now I get to take my sweetie on a tour of Walker's Chocolate factory -- woo hoo! Thanks, Talk820! Thanks, Walker's Chocolates!)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Talk820 Morning Interview

Yesterday morning, Jason & Jodi from Talk820 and I had a chat about the Espresso Book Machine at Titles Bookstore McMaster University and the different types of custom books that we're producing there, including the special "put your sweetheart on the cover of a love sonnet book" we're offering customers for Valentine's Day.

It was a fun conversation, running about five minutes.

I though it would be fun to throw together a short video sequence of photos to go along with the conversation, and posted it to YouTube.

Friday, February 06, 2009

It's Never Too Late For A Good Review

It's never too late for a good review.

I found a recently posted review of an anthology I edited back in 2006.

Yeah sure, the book is three years old, but any book that hasn't been read yet is a NEW book to the reader.

And that's what makes it nice to have discovered this review of North of Infinity II posted at (Speculative Fiction Book Reviews and More) written by Paul Weiss.

In his review, Weiss imagines a pie sliced into three distinct pieces: horror, fantasy and science fiction. Based upon this premise, he has the following to say:

"North of Infinity II", an anthology of 12 short stories edited by Mark Leslie and written by the very best that contemporary Canadian fiction in this genre has to offer is a fascinating three legged beast standing at the very center of this pie with one foot firmly planted in each of its pieces.
I like that analogy.

The authors whose stories appear in North of Infinity II are indeed worth spotlighting (Of course, having selected the tales, I'm a bit partial to them), and I'm delighted to see Mr. Weiss taking the time to share the review about this anthology.

North of Infinity II is still available at Amazon and, get this, as a remainder at Chapters/Indigo for a MERE $4.99 -- a virtual steal at this incredible price. Go snap one up now. I won't be offended that remainders mean no royalties for the authors. I'll, instead, be delighted to know that you'll discover some great writers as a fantastic price.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

HNT - Curse Of The Tall

One of the side-effects of being tall are the occasional head-wounds suffered when one forgets to properly duck through doorways, entrances, etc that were constructed with the average person's height in mind.

Case in point, our basement. And while I, a tall person, finished our basement, there were some restrictions I couldn't avoid -- like the air return vent that ran above near the bottom of the stairs. It was at a point where I couldn't avoid making a sloped ceiling that was just about an inch too low for my height.

Therefore, as I often have to do, I need to duck my head slightly while approaching the last two stairs coming into our basement.

On Saturday morning, however, with my first cup of coffee (as yet untouched) in hand, and an early morning desire to get into the den and work on a writing project, I failed to properly negotiate this maneuver (perhaps I was so excited to get to my desk and get writing) and whacked my head on the ceiling.

Of course, there was a time when there used to be hair there that might have softened the blow, or at least hidden the scar.

Five days later, the scar is almost entirely healed. But it was pretty nasty looking. For example, when Alexander woke up later that morning, the first thing he said to me was. "Where'd you get the lump on your head from, Dad?"

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Shiver Me Timbers

I received the contributor copy of Champagne Shivers 2009 the other day, which contains my short story "Captive Audience."

The magazine, edited by Cathy Buburuz, is a perfect-bound 8 1/2 by 11 magazine containing 76 pages of exquisite horror stories and poetry. Sam's Dot Publishing regards this publication as the Dom Perignon of horror.

Champagne Shivers has a hauntingly beautiful cover by Carole Hall and is speckled with great art inside by several of the genre's well-known and prolific artists. I haven't yet had a chance to read the magazine, but I know it's going to be a good one, chock full of good writing, because it has a story by my friend Michael Kelly, who is fantastic writer.

My story, "Captive Audience" looks at a situation we've all been in at least once -- the horror of being cornered and stuck in a conversation with the town bore. Only in this tale, the risk of actually being bored to death runs a bit higher. (C'mon, what did you expect from someone who enjoys dark humour?)

Brief Excerpt:

Blinking the sweat from his eyes, Sean watched a chubby middle aged man saunter toward the bus stop. Sean didn't know the man personally but knew that his name was Rupert. Everybody knew Rupert. He was the town bore. Sean had never spoken with him before, being new to the town of Overbrook, but Rupert's reputation preceded him. Apparerntly, Rupert would corner people at the library or grocery store and manipulate them into conversations that they wanted nothing to do with. According to Sean's next door neighbour, getting out of a conversation with Rupert was a difficult, learned process, on par with getting out of the heat in the middle of this tiny desert town.

I had fun writing this tale with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and recall that it was originally born out of a character sketch exercise I did during a writing class back in Grade 13. I had so much fun writing a short scene between the two characters (a rambling bore and a self-absorbed jock), that a few years later I changed it up a bit and imagined what might happen if the bore were finally able to land himself a truly captive audience for all his outlandishly wearisome monologues. It was a fun tale to write and hopefully a fun tale to read.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snow Fun

It's snowing lightly as I write this, and gosh darn it but I'm completely delighted.

I know that usually by this time of year people are moaning about winter dragging on and can't wait to either escape to some place tropical for vacation or for summer to come.

Not me. I love the snow.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I love all 4 distinct seasons and the different things they have to offer. In the climate we live in, we're fortunate enough to actually have 4 distinct seasons, and I love sucking the marrow out of each one.

So, it's early February -- bring on the snow!!!

Why am I asking for snow? For my four year old, of course. Okay, and I'll admit it, it's also partially for me, because I also love playing in the snow, jumping off snow banks, digging tunnels and creating snow forts and snow men. It's all great fun.

And, apart from the new budget announcement that allows for large home renovations, Alexander and I have tons of renovations to do on the snow forts in our front and back yards. The kinds of renovations that can only come with a few more dumpings of the beautiful white fluffy stuff.

Yes, we weren't quite satisfied with the large snow fort in the front yard and the two sentinel snow figures standing guard over it. Yesterday (a nicely timed vacation day if I do say so myself), we decided to turn the giant snow pile beside the deck (a wonderful side-effect of keeping our back deck completely snow free so) so that we could build a proper snow cabin in the back yard. One that is big enough to fit both Alexander and I. Of course, we need more snow so we can expand it and fit Francine in as well.

So bring on the snow.

There's lots more snow fun to be had!