Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prelude To A Twitch

I posted Episode 06 of my Prelude to a Scream podcast this morning. If you feel like you're often running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, then this particular episode is for you.

Episode Six contains the full story "Nervous Twitching" which is a surrealistic disturbing little short. It was first published in NorthWords magazine in the Fall of 1996 and it was reprinted in my book One Hand Screaming in 2004.

You can follow the link to the podcast and listen to it online or download it by right clicking here.

And if you do listen to it, please don't be shy -- post a comment here or on my podcast blog and let me know what you think -- good or bad. Don't worry, I'm a seasoned writer, along with some praise and good reviews of my writing, I've also got decades of rejections and negative comments about my work under my belt . . .

Monday, June 29, 2009

Please Stay Tuned For Our Complete Lack Of Anything New To Report

I saw this cartoon by John Campbell last week during the endless media parade that occurred in the wake of Michael Jackson's death. Don't get me wrong -- I feel for the loss his family is going through, but have to shake my head at how the media goes on standby to provide updates when no updates are necessary.

Seriously. A famous person has died. The world is shocked. Let's go on 24/7 standby to give you absolutely no new information but simply dwell on the same three facts over and over, rather than report on actual news items.

John got it perfect in this hilarious cartoon . . .

Cartoon by John Campbell

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer + BBQ = Dad Celebration

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 72 this year.

June 28th was always a really special day for the guys in my family. We always made an extremely big deal out of my Dad's birthday. It was a great excuse to have a big BBQ, get a draft ball (Northern Ontario's Northern Breweries equivalent of a keg) and celebrate summer.

Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2003 and Northern Breweries closed it's doors in 2006.

Despite the fact that there isn't a party with lots of Northern Draft flowing, this day still holds a special place in my heart and always will.

Today, while doing work around the house and yard, I enjoyed several different beers from Ontario craft breweries in a sampler pack that I purchased Friday evening. As I enjoyed each one, I imagined cracking the beer open with my Dad and the two of us comparing notes on which one we enjoyed more.

The summer, hanging around a BBQ and enjoying a beer in the summer sun will always remind me of the fun times with Dad. I'm thankful for those happy memories.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

2nd Canadian Book Challenge - The End is Nigh

About twelve months ago, I joined the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge.

The originator (John Mutford), challenged bloggers to read (and write about) 13 Canadian books (by Canadians and/or about Canadians) in the 1 year period between July 1, 2008 and July 1, 2009.

And the last days of the challenge are among us. While I was successful in my efforts (I surpassed the required 13 books a few months ago), I haven't been so successful when it comes to actually POSTING about my reads. I had planned on posting longer reviews of the books I read, but merely ran out of time. Also, I didn't crack 20, but there's always next year, right?

I've only posted two updates prior to this since I began.

My first update is here. (Jan 11, 2009)

My second update is here. (April 1, 2009)

My list so far:

1) The Killing Circle - Andrew Pyper
2) Cricket in a Fist - Naomi K. Lewis
3) Wolf Pack - Edo van Belkom
4) Lone Wolf - Edo van Belkom
5) Cry Wolf - Edo van Belkom
6) Wolf Man - Edo van Belkom
7) In Tongues of the Dead - Brad Kelln
8) Wake - Robert J. Sawyer
9) Grown up Digital - Don Tapscott
10) Too Close To Home - Linwood Barclay
11) The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
12) Frozen Blood - Joel A. Sutherland
13) Me Minus 173 - Alicia Snell
14) The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill

And now, for my final batch:

15) POW! Right Between The Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise - Andy Nulman
(Finished reading April 26, 2009)
An interesting book that I'm quite looking forward to sharing with others. I have already placed it in the STAFF PICKS section of my bookstore as it's a decidedly different type of business/marketing book that is a very quick read, but with significant examples and landmark moments that stick in the reader's mind.
Andy's take on surprise is fascinating -- I quite enjoyed the book and have bookmarked certain parts of it to return to later for practical use.
One additional thing I'll say about the book is that is CERTAINLY sticks to its mandate. While offering examples of the important of surprise marketing, it stays true to its word and the book itself (as well as the author), have embedded some truly unique surprises that I can honestly say I have NEVER ever experienced before between the pages of the book. Some of the surprised that START within the pages of the book take on a multi-dimensional aspect that bring the reader into the real world with "live" and up to date surprises. Nuff said, go read this book if you are at all interested in marketing.
Link(s): Andy Nulman's website, Silly picture of me being hit between the eyes with the book

16) Crimson - Gord Rollo
(Finished reading April 27, 2009)
I absolutely loved Gord's THE JIGSAW MAN, which came out last year (I listed it as one of the 10 top books I read in 2008, in fact), and the opening of CRIMSON was truly riveting -- it immediately hooked me and pulled me in.
Unfortunately, and perhaps this had to do with the endless dream sequences within the middle part of the book, it started to wear on me and I was merely finishing the book for the sake of finishing it and not because I was riveted. So, in many ways, the middle part of the book fell flat for me. The last third of the book, though, redeemed itself in full and more than made up for those moments when my attention spam seemed to wane.
David's struggles in prison, spending his life there for murders he didn't commit, were extremely riveting and well written -- and the ending was incredibly well done, brilliant, in fact. The last third of the novel really redeemed itself and made up for the challenging second third of the novel. So Rollo is two for two in my mind as a solid writer who delivers on his promise and I cannot wait to get my hands on his next book.
Link(s): Gord Rollo's website

17) Beneath the Surface - Simon Stranztas
(Finished reading May 19, 2009)
Stranztas has created some compellingly interesting characters in this book. The tales within this collection contain a disturbing undertone and read like literary tales that have been injected with a solid dose of the bizarre, disturbing and surreal. This certainly isn't one of those books that you rush through reading, but is rather one that you absorb and experience. For that reason, I read this book slowly over the course of several months, enjoying the stories between finishing full books.
A side note. The publisher of this book has, unfortunately, gone out of business just a few months after the release of Simon's collection. If you see the book in your travels, grab it up quickly because chances are it won't be there long.
Link(s): Simon Strantzas' website

18) Scar Tissue - Michael Ignatieff
(Finished reading June 27, 2009)
Say what you want about him as a politician, but Michael Ignatieff is a gifted writer. I had the pleasure of listening to him speak a couple of years ago at an event at McMaster so I already knew that he was a master of the spoken word. I picked up Scar Tissue that night wanting to explore his written words.
Scar Tissue is a disquieting story of a man watching his mother descend into the maddening depths of Alzheimer's. As her mind continues to unravel in chaotic strands, so too does the man's life.
I have to admit that while the first few pages of the novel were compelling (consider the wonderful opening lines of: "I do not want to remember her last hour. I do not want to be eternally condemned to think of her as she was in those final moments, when we held her hands, my brother and I, and she fought for life and lost, her mouth stretch open, gasping for breath, her eyes staring sightlessly up into the lights.") my interest started to faulter for the next 10 to 20 pages. It didn't hook me again until another couple of dozen pages in, but by then, I was sufficiently drawn back in to the story.
Poignantly written, this novel is filled with beautiful turns of phrase and perfectly captured descriptions that stick in the mind and are a pleasure to absorb. It nicely questions the concept of "personhood" and is evidence that Ignatieff isn't just a talented speaker and writer of non-fiction, but also a storyteller of talent. It's easy to see why this novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993.
Link(s): Scar Tissue on Penguin.ca

With only a few days left in the challenge, and me being an extremely slow reader, I doubt I'll be able to add any more Canadian authored titles to this year's batch. But I'd like to thank John Mutford and all the other bloggers participating in this challenge, for a truly fun time of discovery and sharing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tweet Memories

I sold another Twitter length story to Tweet the Meat, a twitter-based e-zine of bite-sized horror you can consume in 140 characters or less. It went live last night at about 6PM.

The theme I was shooting for was "Retro" and my story is about a man who is just attempting to better his miserable life by having things back the way they were in his earliest moments of life. Here's my "author profile" on their blog.

'Nuff said -- go check it out at Tweet The Meat. And if you like it (and can find the time), check out my first Tweet the Meat story from a few weeks ago.

He Was Zombie When Zombie Wasn't Cool

A lot is going to be written about Michael Jackson, his life, his music, his bizarre personal life, his legacy. It will be interesting to read and absorb -- just as, last night, the radio station I had on in the car was interesting in that they played back to back Jackson songs all night -- and not once did they have to repeat anything, and not once did they play a song that wasn't great.

It was in listening to his music that it hit me. He was gone. But he left an incredible wave of music in his wake.

Like Elvis and The Beatles, he had a huge impact on the music industry, adding volumes of different songs to the playlists over his many decades as a musician.

My strongest memories are how his music videos, like "Thriller" ushered in a whole new realm of appreciation for music in the shiny new MTV world of the 80's. I remember sitting captivated and watching the mini-movie video for Thriller and, with the rest of the world, marveling at the story being told within that 13 or 14 minutes of short film.

And yes, I know, there are all kinds of stories about his personal life. But right now, I'm more interested in the music. Yes, there is no disputing the fact that Michael Jackson was a complex man -- but sometimes, the message of his music was simple and powerful.
"I'm starting with the man in the mirror.
I'm asking him to change his ways.

And no message could have been any clearer.

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and make a change."
- "Man in the Mirror" - 1988
The King of Pop is dead. Long live the King.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

HNT - Clear As Mud

Photos from the Mud Run that I did a few weeks ago have been posted. Since I went by myself and didn't bring a camera, I don't have any pictures of me at the race (just a shot of my clothes on the grass after I got home)

I flipped through the list of mud run photos online and found a couple shots that included me.

Not very clear shots, but at least some sort of evidence that I did the run. (And, of course, that I sweated a lot) Here's one of them showing me only about 10 feet into the 50 foot mud pit. But it is proof to Francine that while I was quite mud covered, I wasn't quite as muddy as some of the others.

Oh, and I found out that, due to a mix-up with the race, I was one of the people who ran about 8.5 K rather than the full 10. I'd thought my finish time of 1:02:46 was a little too quick based on how I'd timed my 5 and 7 and 8 K runs previously. I'd been expecting it to come in at about 1:15 or so.

Oh well, it just gives me a better goal for NEXT year's run.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Endless Father's Day

Father's Day was two days ago -- but I'm still getting wonderful surprises from my son, like this beautiful picture he drew in the day-care craft project in which he was supposed to complete the sentence: "My Dad is special because . . ." (I think perhaps we worked on it last week but forgot to bring it home for the weekend -- he is so much like me, it isn't funny)

Alexander filled it in with " . . . because he helps me play the Wall-E game"

He is talking, of course about the PC game based on the movie Wall-E, which Alexander is in absolute love with. Admittedly, I've watched the movie a couple of dozen times and am rather fond of it too. Apart from seeing the movie and playing the soundtrack countless times, we've exhausted pretty much every Wall-E book we can find, and have moved on to Wall-E colouring and activity books as well as having beat the Wall-E PC game twice now (we're on our third go-round of it)

In the drawing (left to right), is the computer mouse (red circle with that ergonomic curve), the game CD (green with brown filling), me (with a big grin) and Alexander (also with a big grin)

An absolutely beautiful work of art capturing father and son engaged in a fun activity and a special bond.

This is a picture I'll be cherishing forever.

CBA Summer Conference 2009

I have to admit it. When the big publishers starting pulling out of Book Expo Canada in early 2009, and then the organizers (Reed Exhibitions) decided to cancel BEC, I was frustrated and upset. But I was also determined that members of Canadian Booksellers Association should still have some sort of annual gathering with like-minded book people.

As a member of the CBA board of directors, I was fortunate enough to have an immediate voice that we ought to do something. Of course, it was Eleanor LeFave of Mabel's Fables who invested a great deal of foresight into our dreams and visions and presented the board with her concept of Stronger - Shorter - Smarter - Sweeter, which became the mantra for our goals of putting together the CBA Summer Conference 2009 -- our mini version of the ABA's Winter Institute, which some of our members had already enjoyed.

Yes -- if we could do something, even something small, just to say to the overall industry that we're still here, we're still united in our determination as booksellers and we're not going away. The goal became to organize some educational sessions that would be beneficial to our members, then see if we could tie-in an opportunity for publishers to present information on their forthcoming titles in a more intimate setting, costing them far less than BEC and allowing them more direct and personal access in terms of face to face meetings with booksellers.

Michael Tamblyn discusses BookNet Canada's
Catalog 2.0 project with book buyers

Robert Charles Wilson discusses his new novel
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

Well, after endless meetings and calls and discussions and modifications to the venue and schedule, it happened. Thanks, of course, to the tireless efforts and endless dedication of the staff of CBA, Susan, Emily and Carol. I mean, after all, members and board members can have ideas, visions and dreams -- but, apart from the combined volunteer efforts of CBA members across the country, it's the core staff that actually pull through, tie everything together and make things happen.

And happen it did.

Robert Charles Wilson, James W. Nichol, John Brady

Last weekend in Toronto, CBA members gathered with like-minded book folks. They attended educational sessions, (one of which I had the pleasure of giving with fellow CBA board member and co-owner of Collected Works Bookstore, Christopher Smith), speed-dating with publisher reps, listened to authors talk about their new and forthcoming books, listened to author readings, did an intimate tour of publisher's tables and displays and celebrated the best of the best in the CBA Libris Awards ceremony.

Stephen Finucan shares highlights from the 8 year process behind writing The Fallen

Zoe Whittall proudly holding her new book up high before her reading

On the Sunday, CBA had a breakfast, held a member's forum, the AGM, a panel discussion on "Shop Local" campaigns and a lunch. The breakfast and lunch were a bookseller's dream as they each included talks and readings from authors John Brady, Robert Charles Wilson, James W. Nichol, Stephen Finucan, Zoe Whittall and Stuart McLean.

One of the greatest pleasure I have as a bookseller is getting the opportunity to hear from authors about the writing of their books, sometimes about the process, sometimes about the struggles and sometimes about the inspiration. But I always find it fascinating and a valuable experience that allows me to share something a little bit more with customers who come into my store. When talking about the book with them I can not only talk about my own interpretation of having read it, but I'm given a special insight directly from the writer that helps me deliver that extra little nugget that the book buyer can walk away with.

That's part of the magic of events that include author appearances and readings such as the ones that took place at CBA Summer Conference.

Stuart McLean reading a brand new story
he'd finished writing the night before

In all, the CBA Summer Conference was a fantastic weekend. And I'm not just saying that because my store, Titles Bookstore McMaster University, took home the 2009 CBA Libris Award for Campus Bookseller of the Year.

That was just a little extra icing on the cake.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sorry Other Dads But It's Now Official

I post this with a humble apology to all the other dads out there, but it has been made official.

Today, on this very special Father's Day, I have been declared the World's Best Dad and I have the original document from my son to prove it . . .

Sorry to all the other Dads. You might have t-shirts or coffee mugs declaring your top spot, but I'm sure that none of you have this original seal.

Although, in retrospect, I think the document needs a minor adjustment.

It should read: WORLD'S LUCKIEST DAD!

New Review Of One Hand Screaming

I'm always delighted to see whenever a new review of my story collection One Hand Screaming gets posted. This time, it's from LM Bornath of the Canadian Books & Authors website. Lynn has been working at creating a list of Canadian authors and has been an active participant in the Canadian Book Challenge. (My heart always warms whenever I see such dedicated support of Canadian authors)

I was delighted to read her review and see the stories that she highlighted for their originality.

Here's a brief snippet . . .

"If you like horror that (for the most part) isn't too graphic, you should give this one a try. At the very least, I'm pretty sure you'll never look at snowmen the same way again."

But go check out the full review -- she was also nice enough to post a nice author page for me, complete with a picture from the ever talented Greg Roberts and then go check out her reviews and mentions of other Canadian authors, like Terry Fallis, Linwood Barclay and more . . .

Poem - Daddy's Girl

I had a poem appear today on Everyday Weirdness ("get a little weird every day") -- which features a different really short piece of science fiction, fantasy or horror every day. A combination of public domain items as well as new and fresh fiction and poetry from authors all over.

My poem is called "Daddy's Girl" and is one of my favourite dark humour pieces. I've read it at book and poetry readings and audiences tend to get a kick out of the macabre humour in it.

I'm delighted that it was featured in "Everyday Weirdness" on Father's Day -- entirely fitting.

Go check it out -- and while you're there, check out the other great short pieces of reading they offer on a daily basis. Entirely free.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

HNT - Prelude To A Pee

A few weeks ago, I was at a CCRA meeting in Montreal. It took place at the Novotel Montreal.

The meeting rooms were top notch and the meetings were, as always, intense and jam-packed with no shortage of agenda items and issues to talk through.

So when I went to the men's restroom off the main lobby, the one closest to the bar/restaurant, I was a little distracted.

When I walk into restrooms I like things to be simple and part of the regular script. That way I don't have to think too hard. The first "off script" item was the sign on the front of the door indicating "Men" (to ensure I got the right room) -- I like those simple -- ie "Men/Women" or that universal black and white stick figure -- or even the sometimes cute variances I've seen based on theme. And, being in Quebec, I would even have expected "Hommes"

There was a not too familiar symbol on the door indicating "Men" -- not enough to confuse me badly, but enough to jar that subconscious way we usually go about our restroom activity. (IE, again, not a lot of thought required for the basic functions - and I'm okay with that)

Then I walked into the washroom. It was pretty swanky. Frosted glass vanity countertop directly across from the door, darker lighting, fresh smelling scent. There were two small stalls on the right side, and across from them on a wall was a beautiful waterfall about four feet across, where the water cascaded down over more frosted glass that fed into a trough filled with ice.

I've seen many restrooms fill their urinals with ice so I figured this must be the urinal.

As I stood in front of the urinal I marvelled at how unique this particular one was. But as I was starting to relieve myself, a thought suddenly struck me. This work of art was simply too nice for me to be peeing on. What if I'd made a mistake? What if this wasn't the restroom? What if someone walked in an yelled at me for peeing into this waterfall display? What if this was just here to help facilitate the flow of the kidneys or to calm down stressed out minds while people used the stalls across from them? What if this was just there to create a background noise to mask the grunts, groans, splashes and other not so pretty noises that sometimes come from the stalls?

I started looking over my shoulder in a bit of a panic. Nobody had walked in and yelled at me. Well then, I thought, maybe there was a hidden camera. Montreal was the home of the "Just for Laughs" festival after all -- and the French do have a wicked sense of humour, after all. Maybe that was what it was. They wanted to see how business travelers reacted to this strange situation.

But no. Nobody came in and yelled at me for peeing on their precious arty display. Similarly, nobody told me I was on some sort of hidden or candid camera type show.

I relieved myself, went to the sink to wash my hands. (A bit more careful than I normally am when washing my hands -- the sink top and counter were, after all, quite stunning), then went back to my meeting.

But it was the most bizarre and interesting (and beautiful) urinal I have ever seen. So I couldn't resist pulling out my cellphone and snapping a few shots of it. (After I'd washed my hands, of course)

In case you're wondering, NO I'm not peeing in this picture.
I do, after all, need both hands for that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Godin Gets It

I was absolutely delighted to see Seth Godin's recent rant about textbooks.

I should have known that someone outside of the industry would be so keen as to have picked up on the topic with the proper angle and hit the nail so perfectly dead centre on the head.

It's not surprising, though. I only recently finished reading Seth Godin's book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers. It was highly recommended to all participants at a recent CCRA meeting I was at in Montreal. Not only was the book a compelling and quick read and chock full of fantastic information, but in it Godin also made predictions about Amazon that are coming true. (Let me put this into perspective -- this book, which was first published in 1999, is now in it's 24th printing and still in hardcover, which, I imagine, suggests just HOW many copies are still selling today) In the book Godin suggests some strategies that Amazon would be likely to adopt -- lo and behold, they're coming true. Nuff said about that. Get out there and read Godin's book. Me, I'm about to pick up and read through as many of his other books as I can.

But back to Godin's rant. Looking at marketing textbooks, he found a frustrating list of problems with the existing textbook market. Like the folks in CRAM (Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials) *, he realizes that the current model is broken and needs to be looked at seriously.

If you're in Canada and somehow invested in the textbook industry (be it as student, bookstore, faculty member, librarian or publisher), please do check out CRAM to see how you can be involved in helping make a difference in the industry. If you're not in Canada, you still still go check it out and take advantage of the resources listed because all of these principles are universal and likely apply in your own country.

* CRAM is a group of students and bookstores working together with as many industry partners as possible (faculty, libraries and publishers) to try to find new solutions to this existing broken model. Their nine principles are listed below:

  1. Academic materials must be a high quality and offer reasonable value to students.
  2. Academic Community Members are the ultimate decision makers for selecting academic materials.
  3. Academic Community Members should consider the cost for students when selecting course materials, and should explore and utilize the most cost-effective forms of delivery.
  4. Publishers and other supply chain providers should, where feasible, utilize the most cost-effective technologies for delivering academic materials.
  5. Strive for a clear balance in copyright legislation between owner and user rights that promotes the sharing of ideas.
  6. Encourage academic community members to fully and clearly understand the legal implications of copyright-related agreements, so that Fair Dealing can be fully exercised at the campus level.
  7. The academic materials delivery processes at each participating school should incorporate joint Bookstore, Student, Academic Community Members and Library committees that foster communication, promote enhanced relationships, and facilitate the sharing of ideas and concerns.
  8. Establish monitoring and feedback mechanisms in order to measure and enhance the quality, affordability, and accessibility of academic materials.
  9. Advance the cost-effectiveness and affordability of academic materials through the development of:
    1. Advocacy strategies and tools that can be utilized at the campus level to promote enhanced awareness of the problems and the solutions.
    2. Advocacy strategies and plans at the national level that focus on presenting a concerted and unified position in relation to matters concerning academic materials.
    3. Communication with other national entities in the sphere of post-secondary education, including but not limited to the Association of Universities & Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and Campus Stores Canada (CSC).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How Not To Do It - My 10K Mud Run Experience

I turned 40 at the beginning of May.

It's one of those significant turning points in life. Men are supposed to have some sort of strange mid-life crisis, go out and buy a convertible, cruise the strip for hot young chicks or get into some other sort of trouble.

Not me.

I decided, upon turning 40, to prove that "I'm not dead yet" by being able to complete a relatively challenging physical activity.

I started with the thought of sky diving. That lasted nary a millisecond. So I turned my thoughts to something a bit more reasonable (and affordable). Running.

Francine runs three times a week -- and loves it. And I used to run with her many years ago. At least five years ago -- before our son was born. And the very first run I did was the CIBC Run for the Cure. It was my first and only 5K run. I ran it with Fran -- but that was more than five years ago. Fran kept running and doing better and longer races like 10K's and half-marathons

I thought about how much Francine gets out of running and how much I admired her ability to set a goal for longer distances and keep at it, regardless of weather or how tired she felt.

After a long two minutes of sitting and thinking (about the longest time that the average man will EVER think about anything before making a firm decision -- a man will sit endlessly for days, but the actual thinking going on usually occupies no more than a few solid seconds), I decided I would do a 10K run. One of the brochures Francine had brought home was about a 10K Mud Run in the north end of Toronto. It contains some obstacles, a trail run and ended in a 50 foot mud pit.

It sounded perfect for me.

Given my kindergarten-type attention span, a regular flat surface road race run of 10K would likely put me to sleep. Yes, I can sit around for hours staring at the wall, but when I run I need some sort of visual or audio distraction to keep my mind amused.

But I thought this mud run was the perfect thing. It contained a physical challenge which was good, but also a touch of the juvenile and goofiness that I cherish.

Okay, so where to begin? I consulted Francine about how to begin training for it. This was on about May 4th. The Mud Run was on June 7th. She told me that I should have started about 6 or 8 weeks prior to the race and attempted to convince me to register for another later race, offering tons of great ideas for local trail runs.

But, having invested a whole two minutes of careful thought into it, my stubborn mind was made up. I was going to do the 10K Mud Run.

I started my official training schedule the week after my birthday. I did have a 20L keg of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale to finish after all -- running would get in the way of sitting in the basement and working on ensuring none of that wonderful beer would go to waste.

My first "training" run was done on our basement treadmill on May 15th. That was mistake number one -- starting the training too late and too advanced. I ran for 40 minutes and went 5 K. I ran-walked the remaining 10 minutes as a warm-down and added another 1 K to my total.

Following Fran's suggestion, my next workout was some upper body work with weights. Man that hurt. It was a good workout but took me 3 days to recover from it, so I abandoned that. That was mistake number two.

My next scheduled run was May 18th. In 38 minutes I ran 5K. I cooled down by doing a run-walk up to 46 minutes and went 5.76K.

The 20th, I ran 4K in 30 minutes. Only cooled down for another 3 minutes. Didn't give myself enough time. Another mistake methinks.

The 21st I was in Montreal on a business trip. I went downstairs in the hotel to do weights (yes, I thought I'd try the upper body strength workout thing again since the hurting had finally stopped) -- but the hotel's workout room had only one set of weights and some other middle-aged guy was hogging it and sweating all over it. That was supposed to be my fat ass on that machine and my smelly sweat on it. Sigh. So I jumped on the treadmill and watched Canada AM and ran for 20 minutes and did about 3.5K.

May 25th I ran for 38 minutes and did 5K.

May 27th I ran 29 minutes and did 4K. I did a much longer cool-down run/walk and did 5.25K in 40 minutes.

May 30th I did 5K in 37 minutes. I did the rest of the run in a slow jog/walk combination and in 56 minutes I did 7.26K. I really wanted to go to an actual 10K despite the fact Francine repeatedly told me NOT to do this. Like any good husband, I could barely hear her tell me this, because every time she was telling me something important I was hearing the lyrics to the song Frère Jacques or The Flintstones theme song in my head rather than her words. I other words, I stubbornly wanted to be able to do 10K before the actual race. Big mistake number four. I didn't stop until Francine came downstairs and screamed at me to stop. Her words did finally cut through the lyrics in my head which, this time were Psycho Killer by The Talking Heads.

On May 31st I did my first "outside" training run. Fran had kept telling me I couldn't just train on a treadmill but needed to actually do something outside to get used to the different terrain. She took me to a run on the West Mountain that her group often ran. It was along the top of the brow then down the mountain and across a golf course before going back up to the starting point. This was the most wonderful picturesque view while running -- at that point I actually fell in love with running, completely enjoying the landscape, the scenery, the incredible beauty of the area we live in. My whole life I'd thought that runners and cross country runners were nuts to be doing something so difficult. But during this run it finally clicked in my head and I could understand their passion. It was a phenomenal experience. I was beginning to think that perhaps trail running would be for me. I did about 4.5K in 36 minutes. Of course, the stairs at the end of the race almost killed me. It took my legs days to recover from that.

On June 2 I ran the same route of about 4.5K in about 32 minutes. By then I was satisfied that I might be able to complete the 10K Mud Run in about 1.5 hours.

I failed to do another run on the 4th like I should have. Another mistake. But of course, not at all my last mistake. After all, I was so good at making mistakes and I was on a roll.

I spent the two days before the race installing a giant play structure we had ordered in the yard for Alexander. Almost every muscle in my body was sore and stiff, and, the Saturday I'd spent most of the day in the sun, so was sore, sunburnt, and had had a few too many beers. At about midnight Francine explained to me I wasn't in the best shape to be doing my first 10K run early the next morning. She again explained there was a 10K trail run in Ancaster on the forthcoming Tuesday and perhaps I should consider doing that instead.

Stubbornly, I grabbed another beer and shook my head like a defiant two year old. I think I got to bed some time between 1 AND 1:30 AM. Okay, I've lost count of what mistake this was.

The next morning, I had to be in Toronto at the Claireville Conservation Area near the 427 and Steeles for registration some time between 7 and 8 AM. I was up, showered and ready to go by about 7.

On my way out I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Fran suggested I take a sweater or jacket, that I'd be waiting around a while and would be cold. "Pshaw!" I said. "I'm from Northern Ontario. You Southern Ontario types don't KNOW cold. Besides, it's June."

Big mistake. It was something like 10 degrees. The sky was overcast.

For breakfast I had a banana and some yogurt and on the drive up I drank a bottle of water and my coffee and a cereal bar.

By the time I'd registered I'd already gone pee twice. Too much coffee I told myself. Another mistake.

And boy was it ever cold. As the misty rain came down I was physically shivering, so donned the cool Mud Run t-shirt I'd been given in my registration package and went to wait in the truck for the almost full hour I had to wait between registering and the race. I'd forgotten to pack something to read. Sigh. Another mistake.

When I pulled the t-shirt off and went to join the other runners near the starting point, I passed the giant line-up to the port-a-potties and thought there was no way I was going to get in that line-up. Yet one more mistake, because by the time the race started, I wasn't warming up by stretching -- I was doing a little version of the pee dance.

The race started about 15 minutes late (not much fun as I'm an impatient sort), and we were off. The first stretch was down a gravel road. As other runners zipped past me, I kept telling myself to keep to my normal pace. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't racing them -- I was racing myself. That was difficult, particularly given my competitive nature. But I kept to my pace as much as possible. (Okay, I'll admit, I put on just a touch of speed, so I could at least feel satisfied with having passed other runners who'd started ahead of me).

We went down and up a hill on the gravel road, then turned off onto down a grassy field and through a treed area. At times near the beginning the path was so narrow that we were walking through certain stretches. I was quite a bit disappointed that I was walking within the first kilometer of the race. Then we had to jump down the steep bank of a stream and cross it -- perhaps only a couple of inches deep, but enough to get at least one foot entirely wet -- and on the other side up a really steep hill with two ropes to pull yourself up.

I was a bit impatient from having had to walk several meters back, and, like a few others, didn't wait in the line-up to use the ropes to ascend the hill, but, instead went straight up the middle, clutching at small trees and the ground to scramble up.

Oh man. That had been tough and entirely different from any of the limited running I'd already done. I was ready to stop right there.

The trail led out of the woods and back to the "finish line" area near where the race had begun and the final 50 foot long mud pit was. They'd told us that we'd loop near the finish line but go left instead of right on our first trip through. And here there was a stretch of a group of tires laid out flat to run through, then a small pile of bales of hay to run and jump over. Then, darting left, our first water station and back to a wooded trail. It felt like the run had just started and I wasn't thirsty, so didn't take any water.

By then, we were spaced out enough that we didn't need to walk, and it was a good solid run through some beautiful woods. I was impressed with the cordial manner of the other runners, and participated in the calling out of "branch" when you encountered a low lying branch at face height, or "stump" or "big hole" for those more than typical foot-stumble points we encountered.

The feeling of running through the woods was exhilarating. By that point, I wasn't cold any longer, and was used to the feeling of my right foot being soaked.

Up ahead I could hear screams and shouts of people seemingly having discovered something. Was it a dead body found mutilated in the woods? Was this like one of those opening sequences from a Law & Order episode?

No, it wasn't a freshly discovered dead body. It was a river. Perhaps three to three and a half feet deep. We had to jump down to the riverbank, then run through the river, and back up the other side. There was a bit of a "line" as many runners paused to consider this before taking the plunge and calling out about how chilly the water was. (Have I already mentioned it was somewhere in the range of 10 degrees earlier that morning?)

The water was cold and the bottom of the river bed muddy. By the time I came out the other side (it was only perhaps 15 feet or so across), we had to ascend a steep and muddy river-bank. It was slippery and my hands got a bit muddy. As I pulled myself up using a small tree, I tried quickly wiping the mud off on the bark or leaves.

By that time, my shoes seemed to gain about 10 pounds each -- I regretted wearing long socks, thinking the less fabric on my legs and feet, the lighter I would have been. And I wondered at the intelligence of running with completely soaked feet. I'd read in a runner's magazine that keeping your feet dry was important to prevent blistering. I prepared myself for not being able to walk the next day.

There were some confusing signs indicating kilometers along the way. I think it was shortly before the first river that we saw a sign that said 6K. It was confusing. There was no way we could have run 6K by then -- not according to my watch. And I didn't think 4 K was possible either, if it was counting down the kilometers we had left. Time-wise, based on the timer on my watch and my training runs, I thought maybe we'd gone 2.5 or 3 K. But not 4.

The signs got more confusing as we went, because the next one was 7. The one after that 8. Huh? I decided to ignore them and keep going. There were mutterings from other runners I over-heard that suggested the path had been messed up and we were somehow diverted the wrong way. The folks at the various intersections and water stations seemed to suggest the same vague notions as we passed.

But I just kept running in whatever direction the volunteers at various posts told me to go when I responded I was one of the 10K runners.

And at the next three water stations I paused to take a quick mouthful of water and ensure I threw the cup in the garbage can. We were in a conservation area, after all. Tossing the cup to the forest floor didn't appeal to me.

The race went through various grassy fields and wooded paths. Some of the paths were wide and allowed runners to job beside each other -- others were tight and narrow and reminded me of the creepy dense swampy forest where Luke Skywalker first met Yoda. I had to duck low lying obstacles like half-fallen trees -- jump over other fallen trees -- and there was even a metal culvert that went under a roadway and was perhaps 40 or 50 feet long that I had to run through in a crouch position.

There were a lot of hills, and each one took a lot out of me. Particularly the ones that came shortly after the rivers. (There were two rivers to cross -- each about waist deep)
After a little while (what I imagined was the mid-way point, as my watch had indicated a little less than 30 minutes by then), the 10K runners merged paths with the 5K runners.

Shortly after that we ran through the second river, and then went up a narrow path up the side of a steep hill. The hill was sloppy and completely muddy and was so slippery that we were all scrambling up the side of the steep hill (weary of sliding and falling down the hill and into the river on our right). My hands and knees covered in mud from crawling up the river bank and slipping several times on my ascent of the hill, I called out "Nobody told me there'd be mud on this run!" The other runners around me must have been tired too, because they found it amusing.

At that point, as we all slowly scrambled up the hill in single file, I had a chance to actually catch my breath and chat with some of the other runners. Slowing like that again felt like I was cheating, because I really wanted to run the whole race, not walk slowly. Sigh. By the time we got to the top of the hill, the path became less muddy and we were able to run again, this time through a very tight and twisty narrow path.

We moved on back to a gravel road that I didn't even recognize as the first road we'd run down. Then back down the grassy hill, through the woods and to that first stream we'd walked through. I wasn't as worried about my right foot getting wet by this point. Then back up the steep hill with the ropes. This time I used the one rope most of the way up. Then out of the woods and to the near finish. Back through the tires, over the bales of hay and this time, was instructed to turn right into the mud pit.

Ho-boy! It seemed to take at least 5 minutes to go through the 50 feet of squelchy 4 foot deep mud. Again, runners were cordial and helped each other out. (Okay, some of them flung mud at their friends or grabbed and tossed others who were trying to run by on the hard solid sides of the put into the mud). I helped a woman in front of me who was stuck up to her waist and pulled out a pair of shoes that were sunk down at least a foot. When I tossed the shoes over the side of the pit I saw that there were at least half a dozen other muddy shoes others had pulled out. They kept the mud muddy by shooting a fire hose of water into the pit. Definitely cold water.

I made it through the pit completely covered in mud about three quarters of the way up my legs. Unlike many others, I hadn't fallen face first or backwards into the mud, so, except for where others had grabbed me for balance (or perhaps to cop a quick feel) and I or others had wiped their muddy hands on my shirt, I was only half mud covered.

My feet felt about 20 pounds heavier and I had at least an inch or two of mud around most of my shoes and ankles. My legs looked pretty darn cool covered in a quarter inch thick layer of mud, and I wondered how many people paid hundreds of dollars for such a luxury.

We got to clean our hands off in four buckets of cold muddy water. But it helped -- I got a good deal of the mud off my hands and was able to grab a bottle of water and a half bagel at the end. Most of the bagel was mud free, but the grit and mud on it from my hands didn't taste all that bad. After that, I grabbed an apple and enjoyed that on my way to the showers.

I remembered to check my watch -- swiped some of the mud off it, and saw that the time was a bit over 1 hour. Something in the range of 1 hour and 4 minutes. I thought that simply couldn't be. There was no way I had run that race faster than my training, and was fully expecting it'd take me between 1 hour and fifteen to 1 and one half hours to finish 10K. I'd heard that runners often run a bit faster during races than when training, and know I did push myself a bit faster for most of the race, but didn't think it'd make that much of a difference, particularly given the delays on the muddy hills and the mud pit.

I then moved on to the line-up for the open shower area -- about 4 or 5 showers pumping down luke-warm and cool water allowed us to get some of the mud off our bodies. You had to really rub to get the mud off. I focused on my legs, figuring I'd already benefited from the beauty treatment on them, and walked through a field of really high grass for several minutes to clear much of the mud off my shoes.

I had followed Francine's advice and packed a couple of old towels, plastic bags and a change of clothes in the truck. I stripped naked right there in the parking lot, behind my open car door. (I'd put the truck key in my pocket inside a plastic baggie -- another bit of Francine's advice which was great).

As I stripped naked to change, I wasn't worried about terrifying anyone with my large white butt by this, because others in the area were doing the same thing. I got fresh underwear and shorts on, used a towel to remove a bit more mud from my lower body region, and put my shoes and socks into a couple of plastic bags. The rest of my clothes went into another plastic bag and I had another towel to sit on.

Of course, despite the fact Francine told me to pack my crocks as an extra pair of shoes to drive home in, I'd forgotten, and so ended up driving home in my bare feet.

As I'd mentioned, I made many mistakes related to this run, both in the pre-training and on the day of the race. But it was fun. Pure unadulterated fun. And I'd love to do it again.

In terms of official results or even pictures of the race, there are none so far. As of the writing of this, they still haven't posted the results -- apparently there was a mix-up -- some of the runners went the wrong way and I'm honestly not sure if I was among the ones who ran more than the full 10 or slightly less -- it would be very disappointing if I hadn't done at least 10K, because that means I need to do it again -- oh, who am I kidding, I definitely want to do this again.

Next time, though, I'll train properly.

And based on how much I enjoyed trail running, I think I'll be doing more regular runs outside in the beautiful scenery that our local community has to offer.

My shirt, bib, shoes and socks on our front lawn after I'd been cleaned off

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HNT - Mud Run

I've been working on a longer post describing both the "road" to my 10K Mud Run as well as the actual run, and I was going to run it with a picture from the mud pit. (They had a photographer taking pictures of the muddy folks coming through the finish line, so I was going to see if there was one of me to post for HNT.

Alas, the pictures are still not up. Nor are the run times. There was a bit of mix-up with the route, with some of the runners having taken the wrong path, so they're still trying to determine the "official" times of the runners.

According to my watch (which I couldn't check immediately following the race because it was -- you guessed it -- a bit covered in mud) I came in somewhere around the 1 hour mark. Either a few minutes under or a few minutes over an hour. Which was pretty cool because I figured I'd start to die after 8 K and have to walk or perhaps crawl the last 2 K and end up with a time of perhaps 1 hour and 20 minutes if I was lucky.

Hmm, maybe my new aerodynamic buzz-cut allowed me to move that much faster.

But in any case, I did run the 10K Mud Run "Canada's Dirtiest 10K" last Sunday -- and I have the mud-splashed runner's bib to prove it.

Further details about my not so intelligently planned training schedule as well as about the actual race are forthcoming in a later post.

Monday, June 08, 2009

How Tweet It Is

My latest short story (micro short story to be exact) was published today on Tweet the Meat -- a twitter based e-zine of Horror. Yes, it contains twitter length stories -- fear in 140 characters or less.

It's a really neat concept and I've quite enjoyed the fun extremely short tales on Tweet the Meat since it started a little while ago.

There is a corresponding blog for Tweet the Meat where more info (such as a slightly longer bio of the authors)

So really -- there's no excuse for you not to check out my story. Despite how little time you have in your day, I'm sure you can squeeze this in. It's only 26 words, after all. It shouldn't take you more than 30 seconds to read the story.

And if you like it, you can enjoy it again in the same short amount of time. Then go check out the other really cool short horror tweets on Tweet the Meat.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Forthcoming Shorts

Within the last couple of days I sold two short pieces of work to online markets, and I have a short story forthcoming in a print magazine. Thought I'd briefly share a bit of info about it all.

Coming early June 2009 (most likely between June 7th and 14th)
- STORY: [Untitled] in Tweet the Meat. This is a 26 word 140 character story that will appear in the really cool Twitter-length e-Zine of horror. Check out their fun daily tweets from here.

Coming June 21, 2009
- POEM: "Daddy's Girl" -- this short "cute" dark humour poem will be appearing, yes, you guessed it, on father's day in the online e-zine Everyday Weirdness. Every day this e-zine provides a short daily dose of weirdness from the realms of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Perfect for reading on your hand-held wireless device.

Coming July 2009
- STORY: "Less of a Man" in Necrotic Tissue. This is a short-short zombie tale and my very first attempt to write a zombie story. I went with "touching" rather than disgusting. I've been reading Necrotic Tissue since it first came out as a free online magazine and am delighted to be in their very first print issue.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

HNT - Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I got my very first official buzz cut the other day. Sure, for the past few years, I regularly got a "number 3" cut on my sides, but often left the top of my head (what little remains of the hair there) a bit longer.

This time, however, I told him to "number 3" the whole shebang.

I imagine that at least with that little bit of extra "longer" hair on top, the creeping baldness wasn't so obvious. Because when I got home and bent down so Alexander could rub his hands through my prickly stubble hair, he said two funny things.

First: "There's bare spots on your head, dad."

And then: "Dad. Someone took your hair."

I was pretty sure at that point he was going to go get his magnifying glass and announce that there was a mystery for us to solve: The Case of Who Stole Daddy's Hair. But he left it alone. At least he gave me a cute idea for a kid's book.

In any case, what better way to celebrate half nekkid Thursday this week than the barren landscape of my naked head?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Episode Five Is Up

A couple of months ago I mentioned I'd be struggling to get the next episode of my Prelude to a Scream podcast posted. Two months passed and I'd thought about it a lot, but hadn't done anything.

Until yesterday morning, that is.

Without any fuss and bother, I recorded the episode in a few different chunks. Namely, the main body which is the story I read, then the pre-story babble, the post-story notes and the closing remarks. Then, I added Kevin MacLeod's wonderful "Noir - Mild Tension" track and within another hour, Episode Five was posted.

In this episode, I read the entire story "That Old Silk Hat They Found" -- a dark humour tale which examines a perhaps more realistic look at what might happen if Frosty the snowman actually came to life. The tale originally appeared in Strange Wonderland #1 back in March 1997 and was reprinted in my collection One Hand Screaming.

But now, you can listen to me read the entire story completely free.

Aren't podcasts great?

Now, nobody's counting, but I wonder how long it'll be before Episode Six gets posted.