Thursday, July 29, 2010

HNT - Hanging With Tom Over The Years

Last Friday night my good friend Tom Potts was in town for an evening. He had a stag/golf tournament to attend in Niagara Falls relatively early Saturday morning, and since the drive from Mount Forest to Niagara Falls is a good bunch of hours, he called to see if he could stay at our place Friday night. It was the perfect excuse to get together.

Fran and I were delighted to have him visit, particularly since we had originally made plans to have Tom and his wife Penny stay at our place for Canada Day -- unfortunately, due to a very nasty sinus infection and bought of bronchitis, that visit never happened, so it was nice to be able to visit with Tom at least for a few hours last weekend.

After a fantastic meal that Francine prepared and we all enjoyed, Tom we spent most of the evening sitting on the back deck, chatting, having some beers, catching up and talking about our love of music, writing and the creative process.  The first picture in this week's HNT post is a picture of Tom and I taken that night a couple of hours after Francine turned in.

Me and Tom - 2010

Last summer, around the time of Canada Day, it was the Levack District High School reunion. That was the first time Francine got to meet Tom and that we both met his wife Penny. Funny, we'd stayed in touch via phone calls and I'd gone to see Tom play with his band at a bar in Mount Forest, but the four of us had never gotten together before that. I don't think I got any pictures of the four of us together last summer. Too bad. We had some fun times and a heck of a lot of laughs. I was pleased to learn first hand how Penny embraces life with a fond enthusiasm that is addictive.

Now if we flash waaaay back to 1992, it was another L.D.H.S. reunion. We were all just graduating from university, so the "catching up" aspect of the high school reunion was pretty basic. Here's a picture from back then. Ah, look at how young, and happy we all were -- look at that wonderful mullet I was sporting. (Sigh, it still feels like yesterday that I could grow a full and health batch of hair on the top of my head)

John Ellis, me, Tom Potts, Michelle Norry-Simmons - 1992

And finally, here's a picture from 1986, the year when Tom graduated from high school.  I first met Tom when he moved to Levack to attend LDHS, staying with my neighbours. I was about 12 years old at the time, and Tom and I hit it off almost immediately. We were good friends through high school, but when he graduated and moved away I remember it being a really tough thing. We got together a few times over the years immediately after he moved away, and always had a great time together, but ultimately, in the last 15 to 18 years we have mostly communicated by telephone, and have only gotten together a small handful of times.

Tom Potts dressed to kill for high school grad, and me, uncomfortable in a suit - 1986
Interesting that the song lyrics I quote below from Rush were coming out at about the time this earliest picture was taken, and though I liked the lyrics then, I couldn't fully appreciate the sentiment expressed until a few decades later when I was sitting back with a friend and just soaking in the moment.

"Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each impression a little bit stronger"
     - Rush, Time Stand Still
 Time stand still, indeed.

Tom is one of those gold friends I'll always cherish, no matter how much time passes, or no matter how often we get to hang out together.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Connecting With Fans And Editors

Back at the end of May I was fortunate enough not only to get to sit with and introduce Shelagh Rogers, the master of ceremonies for the 2010 Canadian Bookseller Association Libris Awards which were held in Toronto during the annual CBA National Conference, but to also sit down with one of the nominees for an award that evening, Kelley Armstrong.

Kelley was nominated in the Young Readers' Book of the Year category for her novel The Awakening, which was published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House.

I took the opportunity to interview Kelley for The Writing Show podcast. That episode went live this week and you can check it out by clicking here.

My initial intention had been to talk to Kelley about the wonderful manner in which she connects with her fans on so many different levels. For one, she is approachable, personable and friendly -- one merely has to meet her at a convention or book signing to discover that.

But she is also actively engaged with her fans online via her website as well as through various social media outlets, truly giving her fans unique and exciting opportunities to connect directly with her as well as access to "never before seen" material and content that she creates for her fans. (Yes, she writes stories meant to be delivered directly to her fans for free so they can get their fill between novel releases)

She has, in many ways, transcended the author/reader relationship without sabotaging her success as an author whose work is available in print form through traditional publishing channels. Instead of replacing the sales of her works, Kelley's efforts add to it, and simply give those fans eager to consume more, more.

But, interestingly, about half-way through our interview, Kelley's editor at Random House Canada came up to say goodnight to her. That sparked a wonderful discussion about the incredible degree of respect and admiration Kelley feels towards her editor, who works with Kelley on all 3 of the different series of books she is writing.

It's refreshing to see such a successful author pause to acknowledge that their work is refined and made better by being paired with a masterful editor. It's great to see a popular author, and one with a huge fan base who might be tempted to pull an Andrew Wylie and try to skip part of the supply chain, recognize the value added to their work by a partnership with a good editor and publishing imprint. [Just a quick aside, but I'm wondering if the phrase "pulling a Wylie" might come into popular use and not refer to the coyote who always failed to get the roadrunner, but instead to the recently talked-about agent and his stand-off with publishers]

Yes, technology makes it easy to cut certain people out of the supply chain -- but it might not always be the right thing for the long-term, wide-reaching life of a book of piece of writing. It's great to have the choice and the option of a decidedly different type of distribution, but one must carefully weight the benefits and value that a distribution system has.  I'm not saying, of course, that all direct distribution is a bad thing, or all traditional distribution is a good thing -- just that there are times when the traditional publishing/distribution supply chain provides a better quality product or service, and there are others where it doesn't.

One must always weight the options available with the proverbial grain of salt.  And Kelley Armstrong, who is intimately aware of all the digital and direct to consumer options available, demonstrates how an author can leverage both traditional publishing and new media at the same time to connect with her fans on multiple levels. She, of course, is connecting with her fans without losing the connection with her agent, editor, publisher and booksellers. I would speculate that this is leading to an increase in overall sales of her books via all channels. (And yes, Kelley does mention in the interview her experience and observations about how her younger readers, especially those of the "born-digital" age, consume both the ebook/digital content and the print content with decidedly different purposes)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Feel Like a SMUG of Coffee?

I was recently reading on ReadWriteWeb about a company called Smug Coffee that offers the world's first smart mug (or "smug"), that uses RFID to create an affordable way to encourage coffee shops and customers to use reusable mugs.

The Smug is, essentially, a gift card in the form of a travel mug.

Each Smug is embedded with an RFID tag (similar to the ones used in certain "touch and go" payment card systems) linked to a gift card account at your friendly neighbourhood coffee shop. Paying for your beverage is as simple as waving your Smug travel mug over a specified part of the counter near the cash register.

So, two nice issues are solved. One, having to carry around a gift card that's hidden somewhere in your wallet or purse. Two, it offers yet another good reason to use a reusable mug rather than the wasteful disposable coffee cups. And the more reasons we can offer people to reduse and reuse, the better.

On top of the environmentally friendly benefits, this technology allows a person to go online and set their "usual" drink, which would pop up on the barista's screen, to store their name for more personalised service, get a free coffee on their birthday, and allow for intelligent drink recommendations based on purchase history.  Given the gift-cardy nature of this, there's a nice way for someone to add money to another person's account. For example, a college student's parents can keep topping up their child's account, perhaps giving it a bit of a boost near mid-term and exam time. (Or instead of me complaining to my wife that I never have enough change or any cash in my wallet to buy a coffee, she can get me a Smug, load up my account and tell me to stop my whining)

Of course, nothing beats going to your actual friendly neighbourhood coffee shop where the people who work there actually know you, know your "usual" and know your name. There's no technology needed for that -- just excellent customer service skills. But leveraging the Smug technology at a coffee chain would allow a traveling customer the convenience and experience of buying a coffee at their community coffee shop nomatter where they roam.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

HNT - When Bad Things Lead To Good People

Last Thursday was a busy day for me. I worked at the store all day, then had a 4:00 PM business meeting in downtown Toronto, and then when that was done, I was heading to Waterloo to check-in to the Collegiate Retail Alliance conference, which, when blended with the Ratex User Group conference that immediately followed it, meant 5 days.  I was to stay at the hotel just for the first two nights in order to be there for the early start times.

So, I had packed my suitcase with the basic essentials (socks, underwear, toiletries, t-shirts, shorts, the glasses I wear when I take my contact lenses out, a hardcover novel I was reading), had a suit bag for my jackets, dress shirts and dress pants, and I was ready to go.

I parked in the lot on the corner of Bloor and Church, prepaying for 1 hour and 15 minutes of time (what I was estimating was going to be 15 minutes more than I needed), then headed to my meeting in the OMDC offices across the street.

The meeting went extremely well, but ran longer than I'd expected. When the meeting stretched to the time I had pre-paid until, I was slightly worried I'd be getting a ticket. After all, it was rush hour. So at about 5:20, I was rushing down to try to get to my truck before the inevitable ticket.

When I got to the truck, there was no ticket on my dash but the driver-side door was cracked open. My heart leapt into my throat. But, looking in, my suit jacket was hanging there, and the box of books I was bringing to the conference was still under it. However, when I opened the door, I saw that my suitcase, which was sitting on the floor, was missing. Also missing was my soft-side cooler lunch bag. But the video projector, which was behind my suitcase, was still sitting there.

So, they'd just taken my suitcase and lunch bag, but left the piece of electronics (likely too large and bulky) and hadn't even found the small tin of change I kept in the car as my "emergency parking meter/Tim Hortons" fund. It seemed obvious that, though they were able to pick the lock quickly and discretely, due to the rush-hour crowd walking by less than 5 feet away and in clear site, they merely took the suitcase and lunch bag (likely hoping to find drugs, small electronics and other goodies inside) and walked away as if it were their vehicle, witnesses being none the wiser.

I know I'll never see what was stolen again. The most expensive thing they got was my glasses. And it was frustrating to lose the collection of travel toiletries I always kept with me -- small convenient things from toothpaste, a tooth brush, disposable razer, travel shoe buff pad, painkillers, travel size contact lens solution bottle, etc. Among t-shirts, underwear and socks, I also lost two really nice pairs of shorts that Francine had just bought me. One pair of which I'd hadn't even worn yet. And, even more frustrating, a copy of Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE, which I was about 60 pages away from finishing (A great novel, it was getting really really good and I imagined finishing it in the hotel because staying up late to read in bed wouldn't inconvenience Francine)

The lunch bag had an outside pocket that holds a small thermos which I used every day to bring coffee to work. I had just bought a new thermos when the old one cracked. The ice pack inside and the re-usable container that day's lunch had been in were of course, gone with the bag. Francine really liked that container as it was part of a set we often used for family picnics.

My more expensive clothes, the dress shirts, pants and sports jacket, were still there, but before heading to the conference, I needed to report the crime and head back to Hamilton to fetch underwear, socks, t-shirts and a new set of toiletries. Pretty fortunate for me. And on the plus side, it meant I got to see Francine and Alexander again.

Most of the items stolen weren't of much value in the monetary sense. But they had personal value that went far beyond. The suitcase had belonged to my mother in law, so there was sentimental value to it. My suitcase had the plastic blue Spider-Man name/address tag on it that my son bought me for Christmas one year.  I often travelled with it, and the "kiddie" tag was a great way to identify my black bag from a plethora of others when retrieving it at the end of a flight. The pairs of underwear I lost were among my favourite novelty print boxers. The pair of sandals in my suitcase were a comfortable well-worn pair I was quite fond of.

But it could have been worse. I could have lost the more expensive clothes, and I could have left my laptop bag in the truck. Or they could have broken the window (though that's not likely during rush hour, but still), or broken the lock. Even more horrible, they could have hotwired and stole the truck which is a gigantic sentimental item for me, since it used to be my father's pick-up and still had the vanity plates I was able to transfer into my name when he died.

So that's the good news. And, of course, since I have the best wife and son in the world, by the time I got back to Hamilton, Francine and Alexander had already been out to Mark's Work Warehouse getting me a couple of new pairs of shorts, some t-shirts to wear under my dress shirts, some toiletry items, a new pair of sandals.

And, sure, I lost the book I'd been reading. The frustration of not being able to finish it right away was worse than the $32.95 it cost. But, good news for the Waterloo campus bookstore and Random House Canada and the author is that I bought this book again a few days later. Not bad, two sales of the same book from a single person. I'm sure it doesn't hurt the economy or state of the book industry for that one extra sale. (Just trying to focus on the positive here)

But the cutest, most wonderful plus about this experience is when I was getting ready to prep my lunch upon returning back to my regular workplace for Wednesday. I was speculating about what I was going to use to carry my lunch in, when Alexander offered me the use of his insulated WALL-E lunch bag, since the Kindergarten school year was over and he didn't need to pack a lunch.

That, and for a few days now he has been talking about creating an invention for my truck -- a trap that will catch anyone who tries to break in. "That's my boy!" said Poppa Bunny.

So off I go to work, again today, toting my kiddie lunch bag.  At least nobody else at work is going to confuse their lunch for mine.  (Although, now that I'm in the market for a new lunch container, I'd LOVE to find one that looks like the lunch box that WALL-E carries around in the movie)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Write Like Mark Leslie

Last week a website called I Write Like went viral through various online social networks and was particularly popular among the writing community. (Yes, for some strange reason, writers were interested in their own words) 

The website offers a quick analysis of writing that you copy and paste into a text box and compares your writing to a database of famous writers.

Twitter, Facebook and blogs were exploding with people who had used the service to see what the auto-analysis suggested for their own writing style and then posting the code that features a text box with an image and a link to the product on Amazon. (So, for those skeptics in the room wondering how going viral could help the folks who created and run this site -- because there has to be something in it for the designers other than just making the world a better place, right? -- just think of the thousands upon thousands of affiliate links built into their code and spread across the web. And in all honesty, I'm not sure if the links are affiliate, but it would make sense in terms of creating a revenue stream for them)

Being a curious type, I wanted to test this out so I went ahead and threw in samples of a few different pieces of my writing. The results are below.

My short story "Erratic Cycles" (a speculative fiction tale about a man stranded on a deserted highway in Northern Ontario) This story was nominated for an Aurora Award.

I write like:  Harry Harrison

I write like
Harry Harrison
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

The first 500 words of my novel-in-progress A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK.
I write like:  Kurt Vonnegut

The prologue to my contemporary fiction novel MORNING SON.
I write like: Arthur Conan Doyle

My latest non-fiction article on The Mark News.
I write like:  David Foster Wallace

My "President's Message" in the forthcoming issue of Canadian Bookseller Magazine.
I write like:  David Foster Wallce
(Hmm, sensing a pattern in my non-fiction pieces)

A recent blog post (one in which I tell a bit of a "story" - though it is a true story and not fiction)
I write like:  Kurt Vonnegut
(Some further patterns in my writing are perhaps appearing)

One of my "signature" snowman stories "Ides of March" from my collection ONE HAND SCREAMING. (Since the most common feedback I get from readers is that they love the two different snowman stories I have written)
I write like: Raymond Chandler

And not to leave out my poetry, I tested out my poem "There Is A Low And Fearful Cry" which was written in what I felt was the "Romantic Era" poetic style (not that I'm anyone's poet, but I do like to experiment).
I write like:  Bram Stoker

I could have kept playing with this application (It being very addictive). But it's interesting to see the way that different pieces of my writing are akin to different writers. I'm not sure how exactly the analysis works, but still, it's a fun little application to fool around with.

Oh, just one final test (because it's really addictive) - but I copied the text of this blog post in to I Write Like to find that I write like: Cory Doctorow

I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Now if only I could command the speaking engagement fees that Cory Doctorow commands. Heck, I'd even settle for having 10% of the eyeballs his online writing commands check out my writing. Oh, who am I kidding? A mere one percent of his audience would be a dramatic viral-like exposure explosion for me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Book Is Not Dead: It Just Had Babies

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about the popular #dearpublisher Twitter tag. I, of course, joked how it was going to give publishers a whack of new unsolicited material to read, but failed to point out some of the really cool statements.

And there have been a number of wonderful comments and questions to come from this tag, but I wanted to pause to mention my favourite, particularly since it talks about the manner in which a new technology adds to the existing ones, perhaps changes the dynamic, but doesn't altogether kill it.
@katrinalantznov: #dearpublisher Combine ebooks with hardcovers, but please don't stop printing books ever. The book is not dead. It just had babies.

This has been among the top tweets that has been re-tweeted, re-posted and celebrated.  (Proof of the type of creative genius you can squeeze into 140 characters or less.)

The Twitter handle belongs to Katrina Lanz who is a writer from Southern California. Her blog and tweets are interesting, well written and thought-provoking. Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dear Publisher (#dearpublisher): Please Publish Me

Okay, I couldn't resist the cheeky play on words in my title.  But it was amazing to see the #dearpublisher hashtag in Twitter completely take off a couple of days ago, as well as the continued updates flowing into that stream.

And it all started with a publisher (HarperPerennial) via a Twitter response to a writer/blogger/bookseller (jennIRL), suggesting the #dearpublisher hashtag with words reminiscient of Doctor Frasier Crane:  "We're listening."

Check out details regarding this via The Guardian, GalleyCat and BookNinja.

The book nerd part of me is delighted to see such an open and dynamic conversation begin. And on a cool sidenote, publishers not wanting to get all caught up in tension and answering controversial questions that can't properly be handled in 140 characters or less have even addressed many questions, concerns and comments stemming from this popular hashtag on their own blogs.  (See Windmill Books, for a good example)

And there have been some absolutely amazing comments, questions and concerns, many of which have gotten retweeted.

But the flip side of me wonders at the sheer volume of unsolicited advice, suggestions, questions and comments publishers are opened up to via this new channel and can't help imagining that the slush pile of unsolicited submissions on their plates has now doubled or tripled. 

Although the good news for them is that it doesn't take as long to consider 140 characters of text as it does to consider the novel proposal package for someone's magnum opus.  That, and the retweet "filter" allows the less slushy comments to "rise" to the top.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

HNT - Back Of My Neck

This week's HNT is brought to you by a hot, humid summer and The Lovin' Spoonful.
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

'Nuff said?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sh*t That I Shat

I saw a post on Quillblog yesterday entitled "Sh*t some publishers put out" written by Steven W. Beattie involving the "carbon copy" publishing trend that appears to be following the sucess of Justin Halpern's "Sh*t My Dad Says" - a book inspired by the @shitmydadsays twitter account that has also inspired a new television series featuring William Shatner.

According to the Quillblog post, Julie Haas Brophy has landed a deal for a book called Sh*t My Kids Ruined featuring photos and stories of children destroying all kinds of property.

This, of course, inspired me to come up with some other similar titles that jump on that trend bandwagon.  I mean, you've got to strike while the iron is hot (or, to speak in potty language, shit while you're sitting on the pot)

Shit I Shat
A coffee-table sized photographic 365 day view of the toilet contents of a regular man (yes, the pun is completely intended), including adjascent snippets of articles, books and cartoons he was reading while producing the subject matter of the book. A real "bathroom" book for the low-brow humour lover on your list.  An alternatively printed title for this book in some markets might be Sh*t I $#at

Sh*t That Stupid Customers Ask
The book outlining the silly, stupid and inane questions faced on a daily basis that everyone who has ever worked in retail has always wanted to write (but that nobody ever wants to publish - because let's be honest, this content is only really interesting to those who have worked in retail, and tends to only be humourous until those same people who complain about dumb questions walk into another retail outlet and ask the very same sorts of questions they think are idiotic)

Sh*t I Always Wanted To Write
A planned 3 volume set of 1000 page books containing the single paragraph descriptions of novel, story and character ideas that actual writers have to continually hear from the people they meet at parties and other social events in which, upon finding out that the person they are speaking with is a writer says: "I've always wanted to write," and then go on in excruciating detail about the amazing story ideas they've been carrying around for decades but have yet to ever actually write. The release date for this book is still forthcoming because (you guessed it), nobody has yet to write a single word. But my goodness there's an epic plan boiling in the minds of the several thousand contributors who are lined up for this.

A Tale of Two Shittings
In the style of the "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" trend of re-mashed classic literary titles, this book, a loosely based pastiche of the Dickens Novel, re-imagines the French Revolution as being about the haves and have nots with respect to indoor and out-door plumbing and how this lavatorial injustic leads to the revolution.

What other possible "Sh*t . . ." titles would you add to the list?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Simple Yet Effective Marketing

I've long been impressed with the simple yet effective marketing employed by BIG B COMICS in Hamilton. Yes, they have their email newsletter, website and all kinds of other great offers for customers -- among them, friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff who are enthusiastic and passionate about what they sell (yes, that simple yet critical sweet spot offered by many an independent retailer)

But the marketing I'm talking about, and the one I'm most often exposed to, are the "traditional" or "old fashioned" statements they offer on their road-side sign with interchangeable vinyl or plastic letters.

The sign is in their parking lot on Upper James in Hamilton just off the Lincoln Alexander Expressway and sees an incredible amount of traffic every day. This means their sign is in front of thousands of eyes every day, for the simple ongoing cost of a bit of labour and thought from a staff member.

And I've yet to see a message on their sign that isn't interesting, thought-provoking or something that actually makes me want to stop in, or tell someone about it.

Here's what their latest sign says:  FREE COMIC FOR EVERY A ON REPORT CARD.

I'd been admiring that sign all week and finally had to stop and take a picture of it when I was driving by last Friday.  Eight simple words, yet something that has a simple yet effective appeal.

Simple genius in my mind. Sure, they'll likely have had to invest a few hundred dollars of merchandise into the promotion (and I honestly don't know what exactly they're giving away - whether it's slightly older stock, or the student gets to choose from a certain price point) But the fact is it's a simple message that those who did really well in school will be rewarded. Simply bring in your report card and we'll give you a free comic for every A.

Does this Chris Anderson style of FREE work for their business?

Well, let me put it this way.  Francine, Alexander and I dropped by BIG B COMICS on Free Comic Book Day (annually the first Saturday in May) and Alexander selected a single free story from the Disney/Pixar TOY STORY universe.  I also ended up buying a comic while there, but here's where it gets really cool for the store that participated in this "free comic book day" -- since that first weekend in May, our household spent a little over $150 at BIG B COMICS.

Francine and Alexander returned to BIG B COMICS to buy me a pile of Spider-Man comics and a t-shirt. The three of us returned there to get Alexander some more TOY STORY comics; Alexander and I went back to get him a few THE SUPERHERO SQUAD graphic novels.

So, since May, we've been to the store half a dozen times. In the previous 6 months we didn't stop in, even though we regularly drive past this store. Now, though, both Alexander and I feel the strong pull to want to stop in and check things out every time we go past and see the big Spider-Man face on their road-side sign. (His SK report card doesn't include standard grading, so there was no checking out A's -- although I'm sure it'll be a fun thing to shoot for when he starts Grade One in September)

On top of the money spent at BIG B, I ended up special ordering a bunch of graphic novels from the WALL-E universe through my own store. (I'm a fan of speading the money around amongst as many local retailers as possible) So we ended up spending over $200 on comic-book related merchandise due to a single day designed to promote comic books and reading.

And though I didn't stop in after seeing the "FREE COMIC FOR EVERY A ON REPORT CARD" sign, I did stop to take a picture of it and have shared that info here - chances are my sharing of this info will lead to at least one more person stopping in to check them out.

Their road signs continue to be interesting, provocative and timely. Like the text that appears beside their site logo on the address bar of their website. This morning (after many days of torrential downpours in Hamilton) it reads:  "Now that the rain has stopped, stop by to pick up some comics!"

Low cost, and a simple "low tech" message in front of a huge number of eyes. When I worked at Prospero Books on Bank Street in Ottawa many many years ago, I enjoyed putting messages in the Slater Street window for the pedestrian traffic and folks heading through on busses to enjoy. Something, short and cute that gave our store a "character" or something for people to point at and talk about. Did it mean more people came inside? I never really measured it. But chances are, because the message changed each week, people made a point of turning their heads to check out what the new thing said every time they went past. And getting someone's attention, an extremely limited resource, is a very good start.

Are there similar things you can imagine for your own retail space to take advantage of the adjacent traffic flow?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Duck Guy Makes A New Friend

Last night we were having a late dinner at the kitchen counter when I looked out the back door to see a tiny bird sitting on a pink pool noddle under the pool stairs. I thought he'd been sitting there and taking a "bath" the ways birds sometimes do, and pointed him out to Francine and Alexander.

He was sitting a few inches away from the little floating duck thermometer we got a few weeks ago; this is the one that Alexander dubbed "duck guy."

Alexander, of course, wasn't satisfied watching the bird through the window. He announced he was full and done eating and wanted to go say hi to the bird. We, of course, cautioned him that the moment he opened the back door, the bird would likely be scared and fly away.

So he went outside.

The bird didn't fly away.

Alexander called to him in the loud voice he often uses when speaking with critters in the back yard. "Oh biiiiiiird!" he yelled. "Hey, biiiirdieeee!"

No reaction. It simply sat on the pool noodle and looked around a bit.

Then Alexander rounded the pool and climbed up on the ladder. I thought for sure it would fly away.

When it didn't we realized something was wrong. So we went outside, saw it was a baby bird and figured it somehow got stuck there and was unable to fly away. At that point we could hear the mother bird frantically chirping from a tree in a nearby backyard.

So Francine carefully and slowly pulled the noodle out from under the ladder, then cautiously stepped back. Then we all went back into the house to watch through the window.

The bird floated around, looking rather concerned, but still didn't fly away.

For several minutes it sat there, chirping. We could hear the mother bird chirping back from the nearby tree.

Then it made what seemed to be a daring effort, flapped its wings frantically and flew the few inches it needed to get to the side of the pool. It stood there for a few seconds before attempting to fly again, but crashed into the nearby fence and fell into the grass.

We watched it hopping around in the grass before heading to the corner of the yard near a small sapling. That's when the mother bird swooped in and started hopping around in the soil with it. They seemed to be chattering on about something, and then the mother bird and the baby hopped into the sapling and started slowing making their way from branch to branch, higher and higher.  About halfway up, the mother flew to the top of the fence and sat there chirping until the baby finally climbed to the top of the tree and then flew the remaining foot or so.

They both remained on the fence for perhaps another minute, still chattering away, then both launched themselves off the fence and took flight.

The three of us cheered, having witnessed a small flight for baby bird, but a huge indication of the patience, grace and inspiration of mother-kind.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

HNT - My Son's Sixth Birthday

Six years and one day ago my life changed dramatically when my son was born.  Prior to that, the best day of my life was fourteen years ago when I was lucky enough to marry my best friend, Francine.

But on July 7, 2004, the special bond between Francine and I grew when a new person entered our lives and brought with it pleasures that we could barely even imagine before. I mean, we knew that we were going to love being parents, but nobody had ever been able to properly capture just how awesome the experience would be.

Despite having a nasty sinus infection, bronchitis and being told I was close to pnemonia as I was heading into a stretch of time off, this has been an absolutely fantastic week.  Why? Because I've gotten to spend most of it with my son.

Yesterday, on his birthday, instead of doing all the house-chores we had planned for my time off, we did the fun stuff that Alexander was wanting to do.  We started with breakfast in bed, moved on to watching a morning movie (one he'd been wanting that Mommy left on the kitchen counter for him as a birthday surprise before heading off to work) in the cool downstairs basement, then heading out to the Chuck E. Cheese in Cambridge for lunch and some fun playtime, then a bit of backyard work on the pool combined with a fun swim. When Fran got home from work it was time for a fun BBQ, chocolate cake, an oodle of phone calls to wish Mr. Man a happy birthday, and then the opening of presents and lots and lots of playtime with the new toys and a fun pre-bedtime reading of a couple of picture books.

Yesterday might have been my son's birthday, but I was the one receiving the greatest gift of all -- time spent with my son.  When, upon finishing his breakfast in bed, he said "Can we always do this on my birthday?" I said, "Of course," and though I was saying "yes" to the breakfast in bed, I had already begun thinking that I should pre-book off every single July 7th for at least the next time years so I can spend that fun time with my son.

This week's HNT features a few special shots. The first is a picture of Alexander from a few weeks ago holding up two notepads he had made at the kitchen counter while I was doing the dishes. I finished the dishes and turned towards him to find he'd made a "Dad" and "Alex" pair of notepads using the special sticky letters that came with the notepad pack. I was extremely touched.

And a few mornings ago, while I was working on the computer in the den, he took some paper, a stapler and a few pens and highlighters and drew me a special picture of the two of us that I absolutely adore. (That's a hat on my head, BTW - he explained that he got tired and stopped drawing the hat -- that he might get back to it one day. Frighteningly reminiscent of some of the writing projects that seem to take me forever to finish)

And the final picture is a shot of Alexander with his birthday cake last night. No, there's no picture of me, as HNT is supposed to include (except perhaps for the sketch of me as drawn by my son) -- however, this final shot below is indeed a picture of the very best part of me -- my wonderful, beautiful son.  The little guy who has ultimately enriched my life and continues to enrich my life each and every day.

I've said it before but it bears repeating. I'm one extremly lucky guy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Gotta Nice Little Story You're Working On There?

I motored through several thousand words on A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK this morning.  As I approach the final section of the novel, with my first draft deadline of July 31st looming, I had to pause to consider just how long this process has taken me.

And there's no hiding from the reality of JUST HOW LONG this has been, since the whole process has been documented on The Writing Show Podcast from the very first days back in . . . sigh . . . 2006 when I decided to turn a 10,000 word story into a novel and let Writing Show listeners behind the scenes on all the ugly details involved in the process.  (You can listen to the entire "epic" of distractions, excuses and other lame reasons for my delays in The Writing Show podcast archives.)

The truth is it has taken me a long time. The truth is, I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to finishing the novel. Last night Francine had some stern words for me about this project. They were much kinder that the mocking words Stewie has for Brian in this hilarious clip from Family Guy . . .

. . . but the point was clear:  Buckle down and get it done!

So I buckled down. Got up just after 5 AM this morning and by 7 PM I close to three thousand words spewed out.  I've left off at a good point where I can easily continue working tomorrow at 5 AM.

Fran has always been a great inspiration.

Whoops, I'm sure she'll catch the fact that I'm blogging and NOT WRITING right now. Yikes! Better get back to the novel . . .

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

3rd Canadian Book Challenge Results

For 2009/2010 (starting and ending on Canada Day each year) I participated in the 3rd annual Canadian Book Challenge.  Of course, I wasn't a great participant.  Sure, I read at least 13 books written by Canadians, but I wasn't so successful in putting up reivews of each of the books I read as I read them and staying engaged in the social aspect of the challenge.

So I failed as a participant, and won't officially participate this year in the 4th challenge, but I WILL make every effort to read at least 13 Canadian authored books between July 2010 and June 2011 because I still believe in the book challenge (just not in my own ability to stay with the program)

Here's a look at the Canadian books I read this past year.  Yes, many of them are NOT novels.  Again, perhaps another area where I "fell down on the job."

1) July 7, 2009
Last Canadian Beer:  The Moosehead Story - Harvey Sawler
This book was a fantastic behind the scenes look at the Oland family and the six generations of creating and running Moosehead Breweries, Canada's last independent brewery. Blog post/Review about this book: Pardon my Big Moose Head.

2) August 9, 2009
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
This incredible book completely reimagined the way I see things now, particularly about those outliers who have succeeded far beyond their peers. While, yes, circumstances DO play a huge factor, one thing still IS clear -- working at it (for 10,000 hours) is what makes a person successful at something. So, while a combination of circumstances DO play a large factor in an "outlier's" success, so too do hard work, practice and relentless effort. Awesome read!  Reading this made me want to read ALL of Gladwell's other books.

3) August 11, 2009
No Such Creature - Giles Blunt
Great book - interesting story of a Shakespeare-quoting thief and his adopted son traveling across the US pulling jobs and evading other bad guys.  It was interesting that I started reading this book with in San Francisco and that's where the novel begins -- I liked that neat juxtaposition. Blunt is a good writer - while this was different than the John Cardinal mysteries of his that I have always enjoyed, it was still a good read and much enjoyed.

4) August 23, 2009
Fear The Worst - Linwood Barclay
Absolutely fantastic thriller. Of course I've gotten used to loving everything Barclay has ever written.  Barclay has a knack for taking an everyday average person and throwing them into the center of a whirlwind situation spiraling out of control. Another wonderful page-turner of a thriller with incredible twists and turns along the way. A great ride. A wonderful read. Highly recommended. (This also made it to my Best Reads of 2009 post)

5) Sept 13, 2009
Last Night in Montreal - Emily St. John Mandel
This was a good book, an interesting read. The main character, Lilia, reminded me a little bit of someone from my past, which was interesting in and of itself.  The story begins like a literary tale and is written in that style, however, unlike the issue I have with many literary tales, there IS a plot in this novel, and there's a definite mystery to the tale itself. It was a good read and definitely worthwhile. I met the author at Canadian Bookseller Association Summer Conference 2009 and I'm delighted to have read her book and look forward to her next one.

6) Sept 20, 2009
Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang - Mordecai Richler
I read this story to Alexander that someone bought for him a while ago (either Christmas or his birthday, I honestly can't remember) - it was fun reading him this chapter book, and fun to discover a Canadian classic kid's story.

7) Oct 5, 2009
Six Pixels of Separation - Mitch Joel
Simply put, this debut by Mitch Joel is a definite must-read for business owners, managers or people just wanting to better understand the digital/social media landscape.  Written in an easygoing, approachable style and without tossing around a lot of confusing technobabble, Joel takes the commonly understood concept of "six degrees of separation" into the digital landscape  of  "six pixels" and explains the importance of being connected.  The book is as much about understanding new media and personal branding as it is about rudimentary connectedness between people on a personal level.  Throughout the book, Joel continues to come back to the concept of using social and digital media not as a marketing broadcast mechanism, but something that creates real value.  In producing this book and his podcast of the same name, Joel definitely walks the talk by creating something of incredible value. (This book also made my Best Reads of 2009 post)

8) Oct 15, 2009
Campus Chills - Mark Leslie
While it's a book I edited, I DID read it about a dozen times -- yes, that happens when you edit a story -- you read, and re-read and make notes, and edit, and read again, and re-read again).  But all the authors are Canadian, not to mention authors who are extremely talented and worthy of checking out.  This anthology contains all original horror stories set on campuses across Canada.  So perhaps it's cheating to include this book on my list.  But too bad, it's my list and I can do what I want with it.  So there.

9) Nov 14, 2009
Apparitions - Michael Kelly
This is a decent anthology of ghost stories edited by Michael Kelly (who also appears in Campus Chills) -- Michael is a talented author, but also a great editor who selects some fine ghost stories to include in this book -- my favourite story was the final one by Steve Duffy called "Certain Death for a Known Person."  A wonderful tale to end this great collection.

10) Nov 26, 2009
Red Snow - Michael Slade
Great hard hitting thriller by Slade. Wonderful in the sense that Slade seems to have virtually no sense of character preservation -- nobody is safe and assured to be kept alive, which makes for phenomenal reading and incredible suspense and tension.  I reviewed this on my blog back in February)

11) Dec 7, 2009
The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
Fantastic book - easy to see why it has been on and off bestseller lists for years.  I quite loved Gladwells Outliers and think that Tipping Point is even better.  He is a genius writer who brings together facts in an interesting way of showing things in a whole new light.  (This book also made my Best Reads of 2009 post)

12) March xx, 2010
Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
Great. Okay, is it obvious that I simply enjoyed Gladwell's books so much that I had to rush through reading as many as I could?

13) April 5, 2010
Ouroboros - Michael Kelly & Carol Weeks
A wonderfully haunting and beautiful love story of two close couples and what happens when one of them loses a spouse.  Kelly & Weekes are two fantastically brilliant writers -- of course, I can't possibly do the book justice with a review, but instead, should refer to a podcast that includes a phenomenal review of the novel by Norm Rubenstein.

14) April xx, 2010
Watch - Robert J. Sawyer
Incredible continuation of the triology, even better than WAKE, which was a fantastic novel. Sawyer is a gifted storyteller and the tale he spins in WATCH is a compelling one. I remember being angry with Rob at many times because reading this book kept me from some important deadlines I had at the time.  There are some great videos of Rob (including a reading from WATCH) when he launched it at my bookstore (Titles Bookstore McMaster University)

15) June 05, 2010
Switch - Grant McKenzie
Short chapters in this quick-paced thriller make it a very fast read. 426 pages read like it was 200 due to this. Intriguing storyline, interesting plot and interesting characters that show the impact that high school life can have on the rest of one's career/personal life. I reviewed this great novel in a bit more detail a few weeks ago.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

HNT - Happy Canada Day, Eh!

Happy Canada Day! I thought for this week's HNT I'd flash back 20 or so years to some Canada Day/summer shots from many years ago. You know, back when a sport was a sport and groovin' was groovin' - dancing meant everything. We were young and we were improving . . .

Here's a shot of me and my buddies John and Steve at Windy Lake back in 1987/1988.  The three of us are goofing around doing our "Sears catalog pose" while Pete works on getting the boat ready for everyone. The photo was taken by Steve's cousin and everyone's cool pal, Vicki -- it was her first trip to Canada, eh!

And below is a shot of Pete and I a few years later on the back deck at the Craig Street residence where Steve, Taki, Zaki and I lived for many years in Ottawa (AKA "The Levack Shack") - I'm pretty sure this picture was taken on Canada Day, and it was likely in 1991, perhaps 1992. (My "old man mind" fails me so often lately).  I'm not sure what we were looking at in the picture. But I can tell you that the beer we were drinking was Canadian back in those days (before Molson sold out to a multi-national brewery)

And for a special Canada Day treat, the following video: "Canadian, Please" -- because regardless of where you're reading this from, I know that you want to be Canadian . . . (careful, the tune gets stuck in your head) . . .

Happy Canada Day to the Canucks out there - and to my pals in the U.S. Happy Independence Day a few days early!