Thursday, August 27, 2009

HNT - Taken Too Young

It has been a sad summer indeed, with so many people taken away from us at a young age. In the past few months, fellow classmates from Levack District High School, Bruce Thom (42) and JP Couvrette (41) were both taken away. In July we also lost my sister-in-law Lynn Bigras (42) at too young an age.

Much sadness.

Earlier this week I stumbled upon this picture on my flickr account. It's a picture taken in 2004 at my book launch for One Hand Screaming at the Chapters in Sudbury. This was Thanksgiving weekend in October of 2004.

In the foreground are my sister-in-law Lynn and my nephew Chad. Chad would have been about 4 years old in this picture. My brother Don was on Manitoulin Island that weekend on a hunting trip and Lynn and Chad came out to see me, which was really special. It's always so neat to be a "fun uncle" and Chad has always brought me such delight in that way.

I paid particular attention to the proud and loving look on Lynn's face and the wonderfully excited smile on Chad's. Chad turned 10 this past Sunday. It's amazing how much he has grown. Yet when I see his smile even now, I'm reminded of the power his toddler's smile had on me, and the reflection of Lynn and Don in that smile. Every time I see his smile, I see that reflection of his parents' love.

While I did shed a tear after seeing this picture, it wasn't a tear of sadness. Sure, Lynn is missed tremendously and my heart aches particularly for my brother who has lost his soulmate and my nephew who lost his mother at such a tender age.

But the tear was, ultimately, a happy one.

Because this is a happy memory. A happy memory of a person who made a positive difference in my life and in so many other lives.

So yes, there is sadness.

But within that sadness there are strong and powerful memories. And there is love and hope -- love and hope reflected in the faces and in the children of these lost friends and family.

Lynn, Bruce and JP were taken away at too young an age. But they loved and were loved. And they were also loving parents, filling their children's lives with love and joy and wonder.

So while we can no longer greet, chat with nor spend time with these lost friends and loved ones, there is comfort in being able to catch a glimpse of their love and wonder in the smiles and eyes of their children.

And that is something that can never be taken away.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Da Count - J.P. Couvrette


Yet another wonderful person was taken away from the world at much too young of an age. I learned with great sadness yesterday that an old buddy from high school, J.P. Couvrette, passed away this week at the age of 41. He leaves behind his wife and young girls along with many other loving family, friends and students whose lives he enriched.

My heart aches for their loss.

Though it has been a couple of decades since I have spent any time with JP -- it just happens that when you grow up and move out of your home town you fall out of touch with so many people who were a central fixture in your lives -- I am tremendously sad.

A relatively recent picture of JP I liberated from his sister Laura's Facebook page

But I thought I'd spend a bit of time reflecting on JP and my memories of him and how he, in fact, inspired me in my writing without ever really knowing.

I met JP through the realms of Northern Ontario hockey and school. I didn't really get to know him until high school. JP was a year ahead of me in high school, but I was lucky enough to be in at least one actual class with him when I took Grade 13 English while I was in Grade 12. JP and I sat together, joked around a lot and made fun of everyone who only listened to top forty music but didn't expand their musical horizons. We shared a huge fondness for a lot of different classic rock and were particularly passionate about the older Genesis music and Rush. JP had an infectious sense of fun about him as well as way to make everyone laugh. He was easy-going, loved to tease and inspired hilarity wherever he went. I absolutely loved that about him.

One of the other things I remember JP being so avidly fond of was fishing. When I was in Grade 12 I was editor of the high school newspaper, The Gully Gazette (our high school, Levack District High School, was pretty much in a in a large "hole" so it was a fitting name for the long-running paper). After long talks with JP, I convinced him to write a regular column for the paper called "The Fishing Hole" -- he used the pseudonym "The Poisson" (Poisson being French for fish). He did a fantastic job conveying his passion and skill within the realms of fishing and offering his expert advice.

I probably spent the most time with JP when he, John Ellis and I worked at Fox Lake Lodge on weekends, during March break and various other times when we weren't in school over the course of our senior years in high school. We did various maintenance jobs for the lodge grounds, ran the maple sugar bush lines in the late winter/early spring, and had an absolute blast. JP came up with the saying: "Laurie is always saving our ass!" -- which is a phrase he used a lot. And it's true that Laurie Blake, the owner of the lodge WAS always saving our collective asses -- we were, after all, three teens prone to making a lot of mistakes, from stringing maple lines down the wrong side of the hill to almost flipping the truck while hauling a trailer-load full of wood down a sharp steep corner hill. Just when hell was about to break lose, usually due to some decision one of the three of us made, Laurie would show up and saved the day -- thus, "save our ass" as JP so wonderfully phrased it.

In the cabin we stayed in, John took the bedroom on his own, while JP and I shared the bunk beds in the other room. I was on the top bunk while he was below. We spent many nights, after having sat around gabbing, telling jokes and stories, talking well into the wee hours of the night.

I have such fond memories of the pleasure of getting to know JP in that way, but there are also a couple of other things about those long-into-the-early morning hour chats that have stayed with me.

JP used to talk in his sleep and have strange nightmares. There were times when I woke to him yelling strange things, once kicking madly at the top bunk and almost throwing me off the mattress -- when he woke he said he'd been dreaming that we were working at the lodge and throwing stuff into a large garbage compactor, that he'd fallen in and I was crushing him. Another time he woke convinced I was hanging over the side of the bunk and shining a flashlight into his eyes. He accused me of this in the pitch blackness of a moonless night. It took me almost ten minutes to convince him it must have just been a dream. I found it fascinating that no matter what his nightmare was, I was often pulled into them.

Usually after one of his nightmares, we both laid awake, too freaked out to get back to sleep and talked endlessly about dreams, nightmares and sleep-walking. From those conversations, I developed the plotline to a novel that I started writing back in the late 1980's and which I have been kicking around on the back burner for all these years, returning to it every few years to chip away and modify it. Originally called "Perchance to Dream" it was about 3 teens working at a lodge in Northern Ontario (pretty original, huh?) -- one of them, who is sensitive to a long-hidden dark entity that exists on the lodge grounds, starts dreaming about this entity -- soon, it begins invading the dreams of all three of them and feeding on their unique fears to gain access into their world. I since have changed the working title of the novel in progress to "Night Terrors" -- I have even alluded to it in a novel that I HAVE completed called "Morning Son" which is set in the same area but haven't yet sold to a publisher. The whole novel's plot and storyline and character sketches for "Night Terrors" are completed, but it's only about three quarters finished. I might never finish it, but it's been a fun project to return to and work on and I have JP to thank for inspiration for it.

One other inspiration he gave me relates to those late evening chats. We used to tell each other ghost stories around the fire. But one night, while we were laying there after one of his nightmares, JP pointed out the haunting call of a loon on the nearby lake and told me a ghost story about an old indian warrior called "Old Crooked Neck" - I can't remember the details, other than that "Old Crooked Neck" was hung in a tree in the woods and the call of the loon was a warning to those who killed him that he was coming back to get his revenge.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep a wink that night. While JP eventually settled back down and went to sleep, I laid there completely frozen in fear every time a loon called out in the blackness of the night. I was terrified that "Old Crooked Neck" was coming to get us.

That long, sleepless night has stuck with me all these years.

It stuck with me so much that I ended up using it twice in two different stories I have had published.

I first used it in my short story "Erratic Cycles" which I wrote in the late 1990's -- almost ten years after JP scared the shit out of me with his story. In "Erratic Cycles" a lawyer traveling on Highway 144 in Northern Ontario (ironically not all that far from where Fox Lake Lodge is located), gets stranded on the side of the highway. The isolation brings back a childhood memory of being lost in the woods at night and of the "Bush People" who announce their presence in a call not unlike the haunting call of a loon through the darkness.

"Erratic Cycles" was first published in Parsec magazine in 1999, went on to be nominated for an Aurora Award in 2000 for "Best Short Form English" -- I didn't win the award, but am delighted that I lost to the brilliantly talented Robert J. Sawyer who won in both that category as well as Best Long Form for his novel Flashforward (which, interestingly, is now being turned into a highly anticipated television show premiering this fall on ABC).

"Erratic Cycles" was reprinted in 2004 in my book One Hand Screaming, and you can read the full story online from a link on my One Hand Screaming website.

I used JP's "loon call in the night" concept one more time in an anthology published earlier this year. Northern Haunts, edited by Tim Deal contains 100 Terrifying New England Tales -- all the stories in the book contain short stories meant to be read around a campfire -- it includes my story "The Shadow Men" -- a riff on the "Bush People" from "Erratic Cycles" I wanted to tell a story featuring that haunting call of the loon again, something I STILL couldn't get out of my head thanks to JP, so I crafted it specifically after seeing the call for submissions for this wonderful book by Shroud Publishing.

I'm likely not done writing stories inspired by my time spent with JP, which is, I hope, evidence of the lasting impression he has made on me as a person and as a writer. And though it has been a long time since JP and I spent time together, I will always cherish how fortunate I am for having gotten to know him, for the countless laughs and dreams we shared and, of course, for how he has continued to inspire me in my creative pursuits.

Goodbye, my friend. You did make the world a better place for having been in it -- I know you certainly enriched my life as well as the lives of so many others. You will be missed, and continued to be held in high regard. Godspeed, JP, and good fishing -- may you have found peace, comfort and an eternally stocked fishing hole as your reward for all the greatness you brought to your friends and family over the years.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

HNT - Free Fallin'

This past weekend, Francine, Alexander and I took in the Dundas Cactus Festival for part of the afternoon on Saturday. It was a sweltering day (and one that I took glory in and did NOT complain about, since the previous parts of the summer were so unseasonably cool that it didn't feel right to complain when summer heat and humidity finally arrived. Yes, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I like my seasons distinct. A hot, humid summer and a cold, snowy winter both sound perfect to me.)

In any case, Alexander really wanted to go on the FREE FALL ride at the midway set up there. It was pretty darn high. Being afraid of heights I wasn't particularly interested in going on it so tried dissuading him from going on it by measuring his height against the height restriction board in front of the ride.

Sigh. He was just tall enough to go on it.

"It's really high and really scary when it drops," I said to him.

"No, Dad, I want to go. It'll be fun."

"It'll be really scary. Dad's scared to go on it, so it'd be okay if you were too scared to go on it too."

"No, Dad. I want to go on it."

"Don't you want to go back on the dragon roller coaster again?" I asked, pointing at the kiddie roller coaster that he'd already enjoyed.

"Nope. This one. Please."

"All right," I said. "We can go on it."

So we did.

We got strapped in and slowly went up . . . and up . . . and up. Based on looking at the condo buildings across the street, we were at least 8 stories high -- somewhere in the realm of 800 feet or so. Alexander and I were both excited at the marvelous view. I warned him that when we got to the top it would drop really quickly and be frightening but we'd both be okay. He said "Okay, Dad."

I told him to hang on really tight and put my hand on his leg.

Then we dropped.

I grunted rather loudly -- almost a "D'oh!" sound as we plummeted towards the ground. I'm actually surprised that I didn't scream like a little girl.

Then our descent slowed rather quickly near the bottom and we drifted down -- I was expecting more of a jarring feeling and perhaps a bouncy bouncy effect. But we drifted down the last 10 to 20 feet. Gently. My stomach was still in my throat. I'm not sure where my testicles were. Based on the feeling at that point, I wouldn't have been surprised if I looked up to see them hovering in the air several hundred feet above us.

Beside me, Alexander was completely quiet. His eyes were two huge saucers. I told him we were all right, everything was fine. His legs were shaking.

"Alexander, are you okay?" I asked.

He was quiet a few moments longer -- then he spoke.

"I don't want to do this again, Dad."

I'm not sure if he heard my huge sigh of relief or not.

"Okay," I said. "Next time we'll just go on the bumper cars again. Sound good?"

"Yeah! They were fun!"

We then moved on to the street-fest activities, checked out the booths, got Alexander a Spider-Man Popsicle, worked up a sweat, then headed back home for a refreshing dip in the pool.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Six Pixels Of Separation

I had to post this cool "trailer" video created by the team at Twist Image for Mitch Joel's forthcoming book Six Pixels of Separation. I have been listening to Joel's podcast now for several months and have been really enjoying them.

The podcast, which covers new media, digital marketing and branding insights, typically involves Joel and a regular cast of returning characters: C. C. Chapman, Hugh McGuire, Julien Smith, Chris Brogen and Christopher S. Penn.

While not everyone is always present (and at times it might just be Mitch Joel talking or chatting with someone else), the podcast has an easy-going style very much like you're eavesdropping on a conversation at a diner (or perhaps more accurately, at a pub -- because occasionally the word choice and language of some of the folks is "not safe for work").

The conversation and discussions are always fascinating, insightful and intelligent. They are often sprinkled with humour and involve the kind of joking that old friends often share with one another, which adds a layer of down-to-earth to the overall feel of the podcast.

But don't let that fool you -- these are extremely intelligent and involved people able to share a lot of great content and thoughts about things going on within the rapidly changing spheres of technology and social media. That "open style" of conversation and almost "anything goes" feel allows that these guys, while experts in their areas, are real humans, which brings the conversation back to a more comfortable and easy to absorb level -- also, because it's not always the same people involved in the discussion adds to that relaxed, "friends dropping in to chat" kind of atmosphere which allows for the podcast to be less intimidating, despite the rapidly advancing technologies these guys are continually discussing.

In a nutshell, it's yet another podcast that I eagerly listen to each week.

It seems that more and more my mp3 player is filled NOT with music tracks, but with various podcast feeds where I can listen to discussion like this which I am fascinated by -- (The only songs on my mp3 player right now are some Rush tracks off their latest album, because I bought the special disc that had the easy-to-export-to-your-ipod tracks on it, as well as some music by an extremely talented buddy of mine from high school -- Brent Wohlberg. The fact I keep Brent's songs along with Rush on my mp3 player might tell you a little bit about how much I enjoy his music.)

But back to the video. While I'm reaping the benefit of the content in this podcast without paying a dime, I know that I'll still be eager to buy and read a copy of Joel's book when it comes out in September. (More proof, I suppose, of what Chris Anderson talks about in his recent book Free)

Here's a direct link to the video, entitled Ask "Why?". And here's a link to the first one that was produced, called Keeping It Real.

The video seems to match the quick and easy feel of the podcast and the types of things that Joel posts on his blog -- and while I haven't read the book yet, if it even contains a mere fraction of the riveting, intelligent and insightful commentary and discussion that I find in Mitch Joel's podcast and on his blog, I know I'm going to love it and that it's going to be money well invested.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And The Fulfillment Will Follow

About a month ago, I was reading Seth Godin's Tribes, an interesting collection of brief essays centered around the concept of groups of people connected to one another via a leader and an idea. Godin explores the idea of the various manners in which tribes have come to exist over time as well as the way that technology has removed physical and geographic barriers towards the creation of new types of tribes and new types of leaders.

It's a good book, but the thing that sticks out most in my mind, even now, is a brief, somewhat tangent scene in which Godin describes being on vacation in some tropical paradise and waking up in the early morning hours unable to sleep. So he heads down to the hotel lobby to catch up on some email. A couple just getting back from the bars, stroll through the lobby and one of them shakes their head at him in a "tsk tsk" manner and comments it's too bad that some poor slobs can't escape work for a mere 2 weeks.

Godin didn't respond to the barb but rather shook his head and felt sorry for those people who likely spend 50 weeks a year focusing all their energy and thought on those 2 weeks when they can escape from work.

I know how he feels. And sometimes I question myself for doing odd things like putting in well over 40 hours per week, checking work-related email when on vacation or taking calls from work or from colleagues when I'm supposed to be "away" and on vacation.

But I don't do it because my boss pressures me to work overtime.

I don't do it because my job is so demanding that I have to be there all the time.

I don't do it for any other reason than I actually honestly LIKE what I'm doing and it doesn't really feel like work.

And if I didn't like what I was doing, I wouldn't spend those 50 odd weeks a year, or over between 80 to 90% of my waking hours, doing it.

I actually fail to understand how ANYBODY puts themself through that type of hell where 50 weeks of the year are so unbearable and stress-ladden that all your energy, time and thought is channeled into those 2 or 4 or 6 if you're really lucky, weeks AWAY from your "day job." As if that time away from what you spend most of your life doing could every possible claim back all that other wasted time.

I'm sure I could be making much better money doing a slew of other things or having pursued another career -- but at the end of the day, the money wouldn't make me happy if I weren't doing something I could be truly passionate about and believe in.

I've long been a believer in doing what you love. Most people might be tempted to add "and the money will follow" to that, but to me it's not about money. Sure, you need enough money to provide food, shelter and clothing -- but beyond having enough to support those needs, is it actually money that makes people happy? I sincerely doubt it. Sure, there are people in million dollar homes living within 5 minutes of my modest home -- folks who don't have to worry about buying an expensive lunch rather than the brown-bagging that I'm doing, or who drive an expensive sports car around while I get around in my hand-me-down 12 year old pick-up truck, or who fly somewhere far away to spend a week or two in some tropical paradise while I take day trips to a local beach or to visit family. But are they actually happier and more fulfilled than me?

I sincerely doubt it.

They might have money streaming from their pores, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are any happier. I measure wealth in a different way -- being surrounded by people who bring meaning and fulfillment to your life, being surrounded by tasks and challenges that also bring meaning and fulfillment to your life. That's wealth to me. All around wealth.

And I'm wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.

I'm very lucky to have the people in my life that I have -- the friends, the family, the relationships I have cultivated over the years. I'm also very lucky that I have pursued a career that is satifying. While I've never been rich in terms of income, I've long been extremely wealthy in terms of satisfaction and the people whom I interact with on a daily basis in both my personal and my work life.

So when I'm on vacation and still thinking about work-related items and doing little things here and there related to the "day job" that helps me pay the bills, I'm not a slave to them -- I'm merely chosing to spend my time that way because it's pleasurable to me.

To me, a vacation is NOT about abandoning work and getting away from it all -- to me, a vacation is about spending more time with my family and friends and doing things with them that are fun and pleasurable and perhaps a little less scripted than the things that occur in the "9 to 5" hours of the day. The fact that what I do in my day job is fun and pleasurable means I don't have this burning need to get away from work in order to have fun. I have fun every single day. A vacation, to me, then, is just a different kind of fun, typically in a different setting or environment than where I normally spend my time.

And dammit, I'm one lucky SOB to be able to be having fun all 52 weeks of the year, regardless of whether I'm at work or on vacation.

I often feel like I've won the lottery.

Perhaps I have.

Only this isn't the type of lottery where you buy a ticket and hope to be the single winner. It's a lottery where anyone who wants to put a little effort into it can be a winner. It's a lottery where EVERYONE can win, every single day of the year.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

HNT - EBM Upgrade

This has been a really busy week -- and it's only half done. (Okay, busy doesn't quite cut it -- how about "adventureful"? - how about "practically unmanageable"?)

Monday morning my bookstore was scheduled to receive our upgraded Espresso Book Machine 2.0 (we got a 1.5 in Nov 2008). It was supposed to arrive at 8 AM. The EBM technicians (ohn & Howard) arrived in town Sunday night and met me at the crack of dawn in the store, when we started taking the EBM apart. (Okay, I'll be honest. John and Howard did 98% of the work -- I just bought them coffee and gabbed with them for the first hour they were there and did the occasional holding things in place or out of the way while they toiled away . . . after that, I went about doing the 2 other full time jobs that are currently on my plate and checked in on them once an hour or so)

At about 10 AM we found out that the delay (ie, the EBM 2.0 not getting there at 8 AM) was due to the fact that it was being held up at customs. Given that it wasn't a basket of lettuce or tomatoes or something typical -- it was a machine that prints and binds books in about 3 minutes; and there are still no more than 15 in existence in the entire world -- it got held up for a looooong time.

It didn't finally arrive until about 7:00 PM. Remember, we'd been there since 6:30 AM.

We got the new machine unloaded off the truck and the old one loaded ONTO the truck by about 8:00 PM.
y 9:30 PM, the machine was mostly in place -- we'd done all we could and just needed an electrocian to hook up the main power cable to it.

And now, though we miss our good old giant-sized EBM 1.5 (I found out only after it left that one of our staff members nicknamed it "Ruthie"), we have a smaller, sleeker, sexier and quieter EBM 2.0.

In testing it out, I, of course, printed one of my own books.

That's my eye on the cover of the book, so YES, this qualifies for an HNT post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So Perfect Together

Wine and cheese have always gone well together.

So have milk and cookies.

Just saying those combination of words likely instilled different responses in you.

For example, "wine and cheese" might have made you think of some social gathering. Typically an evening event involving mingling and interesting discussion in a somewhat cultured setting.

"Milk and cookies" likely stirred up a warm comfortable feeling and might even have reminded you of your mom or childhood or other fond memory of a tall cold glass of milk and the overwhelmingly pleasing smell of fresh baked cookies.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when, perhaps a month or so ago, I stumbled upon the following blog:

Brews and Books

The "catch-phrase" for the blog is: Giddy about reading. Serious about drinking.

True to it's promise, this blog, created and run by Josh Christie, really is passionate about books and beer. And the posts are always interesting, informative and, okay, inspire me to either want to crack open a book or crack open a beer -- often both (but usually not in the same post)

Well, sometimes in the same post.

Several weeks ago, Josh was talking about literary beers in a post entitled Literary Libations; Beers Named After Books & Authors. It's a wonderful summary of some beers that were brewed with books in mind. If you're a book lover or a beer lover (or like me, a lover of both), then you simply can't miss reading it.

I was particularly delighted to find, among the beers Josh mentions, a couple that were made by a microbrewery here in Ontario (in Campbellford, about half-way between Toronto and Ottawa, ON - about 2.5 to 3 hours out of Toronto, to those GTAers who see everything only in relation to the center of the Canadian universe)

They're called Church-Key Brewing -- a small, fun looking operation, serious about their love of well-crafted beer. (And obviously folks who enjoy books and a good pun).

Although it was a somewhat common phrase for a bottle opener (usually when referring to opening a beer bottle), I was pleased to learn that the term "church key" wasn't just a Northern Ontario thing particular to Levack/Onaping Falls. I hadn't heard it used anywhere else in a long time and so had thought it might just be local slang that we used.

Church-Key Brewing does look like a fun place. And I do love supporting Canadian and smaller independent breweries. So I was quite delighted to discover they exist. I'm even more excited to get a chance to sample some of their products, too.

Here are some of their more literary-minded brews:

Catch her in the Rye
A rye and caraway ale

Like Water for Chocolate Porter
A delicious winter brew, done as a heavy weight 8% alcohol beer)

Grains of Wrath
A double IPA 8% alcohol big on malt and hops

The Lactese Falcon

A Flanders Sour Brown Ale characterized by a slight to strong lactic sourness

Photo from Beer Blog

While it seems like these often sell out and are rare, I'm eager to get my hands on them and try them out.

Methinks a fall trip to Campbellford might be in the making some time soon.

It makes me wonder how each beer might taste while reading the books their names were inspired by.

And one last note, I only read two of the books on this list -- can you guess which two?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Book VS Kindle

Here is a hilarious series of videos put out by the good folks at Green Apple Books entitled "The Book VS The Kindle"

I love the "Storytime" one.

I particularly love the kids' reaction at the end -- the frustrated crying, then as they all gather around, picking up books off the shelves and enjoying pouring through them.

Friday, August 07, 2009

R.I.P. Mr. Hughes

A number of the movies I have seen repeatedly over the years are films that John Hughes wrote, directed or produced.

If I had to pick an absolute favourite, which is hard because many of Hughes movies would make it to my "top of the top" list, I'd have to go with Planes, Trains & Automobiles, even though I've watched Christmas Vacation every year pretty much since it first came out (it's a tradition, like many other Christmas movies that are aired that time of year).

There are so many memorable quotes from the movie, that I wanted to walk through here. But I'd be writing this all day.

One of the many ones I regularly pull out (particular when Francine and I are driving somewhere) is the following one that takes place when Del is driving on the wrong side of the highway shortly after a near accident where he re-enters the highway via the exit ramp. Across the divided highway, another car driver and his wife are frantically trying to tell them they're on the wrong side of the highway:

Neal: He says we're going the wrong way.
Del: Oh, he's drunk. How would he know where we're going?

Classic human miscommunication.

Two things that appealed to me so much about this movie are the friendship born out of the misadventure between two dynamically different strangers as well as the never-ending tangents they are thrust on in their attempt to get home.

Interestingly, the very first short story I sold was a young adult humour tale "The Progressive Sidetrack" -- it was about a student doing everything he can to get to a girl he has a crush on to ask her out to the dance that night. From the beginning, circumstances continue to thwart him at every turn, and the entire day becomes a huge misadventure with obstacles thrust in his way and preventing him from getting in contact with her. I first wrote it as part of a writing assignment for a grade 13 writing class, and my teacher at the time mentioned how it reminded her Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I suppose that is an apt enough description of the story (since I'd seen a ton of John Hughes movies and could say I was heavily influenced by them), but I like to think that while my story certainly was a young adult comedy/adventure tale, it was more akin to the simple goal and obstacles as laid out in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. They want to get home to Chicago. He wants to ask a girl on a date. And unlike Ferris, my main character isn't quote so popular. He was more bumbling and a bit of a nerd. (Yes, I know -- he was based on me, which is why he couldn't possibly be cast in a Ferris Bueller kind of light)

That, alone, should be enough evidence of how well I have always admired the writing of John Hughes. You know, that whole imitation/flattery thing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

PubFight - Xander House

I'm participating in BookNet Canada's PubFight this year.

My fictitious publishing company is called Xander House - "Books worth getting excited about!"

Here's the avatar I've created for it -- based on pictures of my son when he was a baby during various moments of "attacking the camera" -- I created a blog post about this a loooong time ago. (October 2005 to be exact)

More info on this exciting "fantasy publishing" game to come.

HNT - Driven To Distractions

It's been so crazy busy lately that I didn't have time to think of anything for this week's HNT post. So I thought I'd do a quick funny pose based on a story that I recently recorded to give away via my "Prelude to a Scream" podcast.

The story is about a frustrated writer who wants merely to get back to finishing his novel. But the world around him has other plans. At the end of his rope, he clings to the words from a self-help bestseller and goes a little over the top in trying to eliminate the distractions in his way.

You can read the entire story for free or listen to an audio version of it for free.

I can certainly relate to that.

But the story isn't based on me.

After all, unlike my main character in the story, I've never had a bestselling fantasy novel published.

But I'm certainly frustrated. I've got a whack of unfinished writing projects on the go, several story deadlines to try to hit as well as an anthology that I'm editing (and which I can't wait to release details about - hopefully in another few weeks)

But the lack of time to get anything useful done or actually complete any of these projects is really getting to me.

Can you tell?

I took the shot in front of one of the bookshelves that surrounds my writing space. My good buddy Yorick looks on (I know him well). Poor Yorick, he actually looks better than I do. I think I should be trying to get more sleep.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Prelude To A Distraction

I posted Episode 07 of my Prelude to a Scream podcast this past weekend.

If you're a writer and are continually frustrated by the multiple distractions preventing you from being able to get down to some serious writing, then perhaps this particular episode is for you.

Episode 07 features the full story "Distractions" which tells the tale of a frustrated writer. Maxwell Bronte had a single blockbuster fantasy novel published, but that was years ago. Still working on the sequel, the poor guy has ended up being roadblocked by multiple obstacles in his way, all coming in the form of distractions with a capital "D." When Bronte discovers the latest self-help bestseller Maxim Power II: Getting Through Distractions by the popular self-help guru Andy Robinson, he begins not only taking the advice to heart, but going a little over-board in his attempt to eliminate distractions from his life.

Yes, before reading the tale you can tell it's a cautionary tale about blindly following self-help advice -- it's a dark humour tale and I had a lot of fun writing it.

It was first published in a CD-Rom given out to people attending World Fantasy Con 2001 (which was edited by Nancy Kilpatrick). It was reprinted in my book One Hand Screaming in 2004 and is also available as a free download at Shortcovers.

Or you can listen to the entire story for free online -- just scroll down to the end of the post and click the PLAY button or right click here to download the mp3.

So many options available to you to enjoy this for free.

But please don't see them as distractions.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Free As In The Book By Chris Anderson

A few weeks ago I read Chris Anderson's new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

If you don't like reading long reviews/discussions then let's cut to the chase on whether or not I liked it:

Before I even finished reading the book I started seeking out Anderson's The Long Tail. (A book that, over the years, I have discussed multiple times with dozens upon dozens of people and yet haven't actually read yet)

There, you got the gist of the rest of this post. If you wish to stop reading, you got your "Reader's Digest" version -- you can stop now.

I also think that it wouldn't be right to attempt to write a straight-out review of the book -- I'm sure enough straight-out reviews of it will be posted all over. I thought, instead, that I'd talk about the book and offer interesting tidbits taken from the pleasure I got while reading it as well as after.

In terms of readability, the best way I can illustrate that is by looking at how Anderson opens the book. He does so with a reference to Monty Python. (Talk about biasing me in favour of the book) -- but it's not just for fun and to capture your interest -- it nicely illustrates the point he will continually make throughout the book, that free is a reality that goes beyond a mere marketing gimmick.

In 2008, the surviving members of Monty Python created a channel on YouTube in response to the huge extent of digital piracy. Here's some quoted text from their YouTube statement (which Anderson also quotes in full in his book):

"For 3 years now you YouTubers have been ripping us off . . . [snip] . . . Now the tables have turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands. . . No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing . . . And what's even more, we're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!"
Typical Monty Python -- silly and brilliant at the same time. It seems counter-intuitive, like the Roman solider in their movie Life of Brian getting Brian to write "Romani ite domum" or "Romans, go home" in Latin 100 times on the fortress walls for using incorrect grammar in his original graffitti. ("Now don't do it again!")

But it worked. Marvelously.

Anderson shows how, at virtually no cost to them (YouTube does offer the bandwidth for free after all) the Monty Python folks turned digital piracy around and generated increased revenues in their brand. And they did it by using free. This is just one of the many fine examples he uses in the book to illustrate how it can be done.

I was about three-quarters of the way through the book (I'd read most of it while flying from Toronto to San Francisco for a book industry business trip) when I was sitting in a room with dozens of campus bookstore directors and managers as well as a handful of VP's from a couple of book and publishing companies in the US.

What I found absolutely fascinating was how many times the people speaking brought up Anderson's concepts brought forth in his book The Long Tail -- and yet in almost the same breath they dismissed the very idea of FREE being something that is viable.

Let me double back to repeat that in case you missed the point.

In 2004 Anderson wrote an article that morphed into a book illustrating the concept of The Long Tail (which basically describes a niche strategy of businesses such as, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities)

A graph from Chris Anderson's blog illustrating the Long Tail

Sure, statisticians have been studying the concept for over half a century, but Anderson brought the points home in a way that we could see it working within modern business models. And right now, people toss out the phrase "the long tail" as if it were always a given. I found it fascinating that the same people casually tossing this phrase and concept out as if it were a given were also, in virtually the same breath, dismissing Anderson's new book Free.

Some of them seem to have actually read it, and appreciated where Anderson was going with his new book. But most of them didn't seem to grasp the basic concepts that I'm sure we'll be casually tossing out in business meetings in another five years.

Similar to what he did in The Long Tail, Anderson brought together concepts that have been around for a century or more, and again, applies the concepts to our modern and rapidly changing world in an easily digestible package that business folks can absorb and apply.

One of the things I thought he did an excellent job of was illustrating the misunderstanding involved when the word FREE is used. He spends a decent amount of time defining FREE and then continually circling back to ensure four basic concepts of FREE are explored:

Free 1: Direct Cross-Subsidies
Any product that entices you to pay for something else
Free 2: The Three-Party Market
A third party pays to participate in a market created by a free exchange between parties one and two
Free 3: Freemium
Anything that's matched with a premium paid version
Free 4: Nonmonetary Markets
Anything people chose to give away with no expectation of payment

I'm not going to go into details here -- why should I? Anderson wrote an excellent book that dives into each of these models and explores them in wonderful detail. Seek out the book and you can explore them, with Anderson, in detail.

I'm sure that despite Anderson's efforts to find real world examples of these various strategies have worked (and also not worked) in the past and in present business practicies, some readers of the book will continue to scoff. All I can say is: scoff away, gentlemen. It's your loss.

Within my own experiences as a bookseller, I have seen FREE work wonderfully. Giving away free audio and ebook versions of a book boosting hard copy sales within the trade/general books area. And also free pdf versions of textbooks when combined with a REASONABLY PRICED hard copy version of the book -- keep in mind that this model only works when the hard copy is a reasonable price -- the reasonable price has, so far been a result of collaboration with the publisher or author to produce a cost-efficient POD version on the Espresso Book Machine right in my bookstore. When done properly, hard copy sales of the "free" textbook just fly off the shelves and we can barely keep up with the printing, despite the in house "on demand" technology we're employing. (The result, higher sales and more revenues for the bookstore, the publisher and the author)

One final point to make (because I'm getting the feeling this blog post is going on way too long and I should wrap it up), is that I ended up getting a free signed copy of Anderson's new book mailed to me from a blogger/author friend in the U.S. and someone whom I became a fan of BECAUSE he gave his first novel away entirely free via podcasting.

I HAD been planning on purchasing Anderson's book. But I got it for free.

Some of you might be thinking: SUCKER! in terms of me getting a free copy of the book. Anderson just lost a sale of the hardcover. Sure -- I suppose that's true.

But what is one of the first things I opened this post with? Before I even finished Free: The Future of a Radical Price, I went out to purchase The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. So Anderson ended up earning royalties off of me. That's "direct" income.

But beyond that "direct income" -- before Free hit the New York Times and Globe & Mail Bestsellers lists last week, I had already placed the Canadian Bookseller Association "Staff Pick" sticker onto copies of the book in my bookstore. This allows the book to have more attention paid to it. Similarly, I've been talking with lots of people about the book.

I have since also posted short review blurbs on three different book websites before writing this blog post, and am likely to also post reviewish type blurbs in many other spots. Why? Not because I feel I owe Anderson anything for allowing me to get a free copy -- but because I got a lot out of reading the book, and as a book nerd, whenever I get a lot out of a book, I'm eager to share my enthusiasm for that book with anyone who will listen.

Will any of these things affect the sales of Anderson's book? They might. As a bookseller, I like hand-selling books I believe in and have enjoyed, and have at least a minor impact in that way. As a blogger, I'm just one of millions out there contributing content that others absorb -- do I have a following of millions of people? No. But there are people read my blog (both here on this site as well as the Facebook friends who see this blog via an auto-feed into that realm) -- and some of them might be influenced to check out Anderson's book -- so there might be an impact there too.

But these tiny little flickers of light I'm casting out, combined with other tiny little flickers of light out there, not from the big name booksellers or bloggers, but from us little folks, do stand a chance of casting a brilliant spotlight. And even if they don't, if I am able to influence just one person in my immediate social circles to take another look at Anderson's new book, then that alone makes a difference worth noting.

I've rambled on enough here -- suffice it to say that Anderson's book has provided much food for thought, much content for ongoing discussion. It's a book that I recommend. Not to everyone, of course (I won't suggest my five year old son read it, for example, nor my mom, who prefers to enjoy a Harlequin-style escape in the book she prefers -- that's the joy of recommending books -- it's not a blanket experience, but rather a selective one -- matching the right book to the right reader at the right time). But I would certainly recommend this book to business folks, booksellers, publishers and those interested in exploring more about this radical price.

And finally, since I can't think of a better way to end this rambling post, I recently stumbled upon (okay, I didn't stumble upon it -- it came to me via either a RSS feed of a blog I subscribe to, or via a Twitter person I'm following -- likely BOTH) a talk Anderson gave as part of the Authors@Google series. I found it a good way to revisit the book and it's concepts.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Goofy Isn't All That Goofy After All

My son is into Micky Mouse Clubhouse big time lately.

Which basically means that I've been seeing a lot of Mickey and his friends.

It's a fun place to be, particularly in remembering my own fascination with the Disney Universe.

But, of course, as an adult, I tend to look at things a bit differently than I did when I was a child.

For example, I keep wondering how Mickey Mouse walks around wearing nothing but pants gloves and shoes (he seems to have forgotten his shirt), and then other characters like Donald Duck walk around with a shirt on but no pants.

Why aren't all the other characters making fun of them? Aren't they embarassed by it? Yes, I know, these are adult concerns forced upon us by Western society. Now aside from all this, wouldn't it suggest that these characters have some sort of thing going on by which they're so distracted or confused that they've forgotten to get fully clothed? I mean, in all other respects they seem to be completely "with it" -- but then there's the missing clothing option -- like they are absent-minded professors or something.

Everyone else adores them so much they just seem to let it pass. "Oh yes, Mickey's a great guy -- he forgets to put on a shirt, but he's cute and charismatic and is our esteemed leader, so we just ignore that. Oh, and Donald? Yes, he walks around without any pants on, his bare butt feathers blowing in the wind, but we feel sorry for his speech impediment and temper issues so feel it wouldn't be right to point this out."

Of course, there's one character who seems to have managed to get himself fully clothed, despite the stars being aligned against him. He's wearing not just pants and a shirt, but shoes, a vest, gloves and a hat. He's fully clothed, fully prepared.

It's Goofy.

So when you look at it, though he is clumsy and has a silly laugh, and is considered among his peers to be the least intelligent of the group, I guess that Goofy is not all that goofy after all.

The Book VS Kindle

What's with me? Am I on a book-related YouTube kick lately?

While this video is a little longer than it needs to be to make the point (it could have been about half the length it is), it's cute and an interesting addition to the ongoing discussion of this perpetual "tipping point" we're at (and seem to have been at for 10 years now) with respect to traditional hard copy books VS ebooks.

While I'm a fan of ebooks and own a Sony Reader, I'm also a huge fan of hard copy books. One of the concerns and issues I have with respect to the ebook is that I don't really own it the way I own it (see endless discussions of Amazon and Orwell's 1984 as evidence of how elusive "owning" it can be), and thus I can't give it to someone else, nor re-sell it.