Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Fall To-Be-Read List

Below is a list of books sitting on my shelf and in my e-reader, patiently waiting for me to get to them. I know I won't read them all in the next few months, and you may not care, but if nothing else this keeps them all in one place as a reminder for me. And hey, if you're wondering how my mind ticks, checking out lists like this is a pretty good way to find out.

Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville

One of the winners of the Nerdist/Inkshares publishing contest I took part in last year, I'm actually in the middle of this book right now and I'm enjoying it immensely (which is good, because I was quite disappointed with the other winning book). It's a zombie apocalypse story with some actual strong YA themes about coming of age and sexuality, and I'm very pleased with how it's going so far. Again, I'm only halfway through so there's plenty of time for it to go off the rails, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

The Pickpocket by Celine Jeanjean

I love Celine Jeanjean's fantasy/steampunk/mystery whatever-you-want-to-call-it series, and she just released a new novella detailing one of the main character's backstories. It's burning a hole on my e-reader right now waiting for me to finish Welcome to Deadland.

Sawdust & Spangles: Stories & Secrets of the Circus by W.C. Coup

My post about The Toronto Circus Riot last week renewed my fascination with 19th-century circuses, and I found this book, written around the turn of the last century, filled with first-hand accounts of living and working with said travelling shows. It's said to be pretty hard to stomach in places (they weren't exactly known for the sterling animal rights) but it should be an curious read.

The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave by J.H. Moncrieff

I've been meaning to get to this one for awhile, as it's by a fellow Canadian horror author as well as a member of the IWSG. Plus how can you resist that creepy fucking bear on the cover?

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

I read a collection of PG Wodehouse stories earlier this year and it blew me away. The fact that such simple jokes stand up nearly a century after they were written speak to the exceptional style and skill of the writer. Plus, his influence on future British comic writers like Stephen Fry, Douglas Adams, Hugh Laurie and even Terry Pratchett is obvious. I picked this one up on sale at Kobo and I'm really looking forward to it.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

I'll be honest, I know next to nothing of this book, but I've heard it described as the funniest book ever written, and it in fact was one of the influences on Wodehouse. That is more than enough to make me want to check it out.

Utopiates by Josh Finney & Kat Rocha

I won a copy of this cyberpunk graphic novel in a contest - apparently it's about a bleak, Blade Runner-esque future where the most popular drug changes people's personality, rewiring their brains to basically swap their souls with someone else. Sounds pretty freaky and worth a looksie, but I will admit when I signed up for the contest I actually thought it was for another book (Casefile Arkham) by the same authoer. Still, I'm not one to turn down a free book!

Wisconsin Vamp by Scott Burtness

Scott is the organizer of Vampire Books For Blood, the charity drive I'm taking part in during the month of October. Wisconsin Vamp is just one of the many fine books that are available (including of course Hell Comes to Hogtown!), proceeds from which will be donated to the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services. And just looking at the cover, you KNOW this book is right up my alley...

One Goblin Army by Philip Overby

It's Philip Overby. It's Splatter-Elf. You just have to read it.

We've been waiting for this one for a long time. It had better be good, Phil. ;-)

Rise by Brian Guthrie

Another book from the Nerdist/Inkshares contest that I somehow got a free copy of. Once again, I know nothing about this one or how it was entered into the contest when it was already published last year, but I am willing to check it out. 

So what books are you planning on checking out this Fall?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Toronto Circus Riot of 1855

Some of you know that I love weird Canadian History (see: The soldier who adopted a bear and brought it overseas to World War I), and the following is one of the weirder stories out there. How this hasn't be dramatized as a film, I have no idea. I'm thinking I'm going to have to write a novel about it myself.

Picture this: Toronto, mid-nineteenth century. Victorian prudishness has not yet settled into the only recently-incorporated city, which was mostly still a booming frontier town. Canada would not officially exist as an independent country for another twelve years. The city had a huge Irish Catholic population that clashed regularly with the Irish Protestants (as well as the English and the Scottish), having brought the ancestral grudges with them when they came to the colonies to escape the Great Irish Famine.

Can you picture what we're dealing with now?
 Downtown Toronto c. 1868 
On the evening of July 12, 1855, the Hook and Ladder Firefighting Company visited Mary Ann Armstrong's brothel on King Street, as was the accepted after-hours activity for a volunteer fire department at the time. Now, it must be pointed out that two weeks prior, this same company had gotten into a brawl with a rival firehouse when both groups showed up to combat the same blaze.

Yes, they had a "rival" firehouse. Yes, they fought over who got to put out a fire.

Trust me, it gets even better.

It turns out the circus was in town, and actual honest-to-gods clowns from SB Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie and Circus showed up to partake in Ms. Armstrong's "services." It doesn't mention in the history books whether they were still wearing their costumes and make-up, but I would like to assume that they were. The story goes that a drunk fireman named Fraser picked a fight with one of the clowns (because of course he did) and a brawl broke out. The clowns then proceeded to beat the ever-loving daylights out of the burly firemen, putting two of them in the hospital.


Seriously, how would you react if these guys showed up at your whorehouse in the middle of the night?

Yes, clowns beat up firefighters. I'm not sure if that's some kind of fever nightmare or really weird fetish porn.

The firefighters were all Irish Catholic Orangemen, and an army of their countrymen showed up at the circus fairgrounds the next day (poetically, Friday the 13th) to cause trouble and get retribution. Police were called, but since they were mostly members of the Orange Order themselves, they just stood by and smoked cigars while the crowd grew more and more violent, demanding that the carnies "send out the clowns."

See? Actual newspaper clipping of the event. I'm not making this up.

The situation got nastier as the locals set fire to the circus tents and wagons. The Hook and Ladder Company was called, but instead of putting out the fire (someone should have called that rival firehouse), the firemen started tearing down the last of the tents where the carnies were hiding. The mayor and police chief Samuel Sherwood showed up at the scene themselves to try and restore order, but to no avail. Chief Sherwood actually attempted to personally arrest a rioter and got beat up for his efforts. The mayor allegedly grabbed an axe from a dude who was about to commit coulrocide. Yes, that is the academic term for "clown murder."

This ad seems to imply the circus had tigers. TIGERS. Why didn't they unleash their tigers on the rowdy Irishmen??? 

Finally the mayor had to call in the army to put the riot down. Amazingly no one was killed. Several locals were hurt but I can't find records of what sort of injuries were suffered among the circus folk. Something tells me the carnies wouldn't have cooperated with the police even if they had bothered to question them, and the circus quickly fled town. Many of them actually jumped into the lake and swam away.

I would like to imagine that Lake Ontario wasn't as disgusting back then, but somehow I doubt it.

Afterward, seventeen rioters were arraigned in court but the police present at the scene claimed they were unable to identify even a single participant in the riot. This came as a surprise to no one, as they acted similarly during the previous firemen's brawl as well as the ongoing Protestant-Catholic street fights. Police constables of the day were appointed by city councilors with no training or vetting processes, and were, to be polite, massively corrupt bastards.

The public and the press put heavy pressure on the local government to fix the much-maligned police department. In 1858 the province finally put down legislation for an overhaul of the police force, and in 1859 the entire force was fired, leading to the basis of a new, better and less corrupt police organization in Toronto that exists to this today.

I can hear you snickering about a "better" and "less corrupt" police force in Toronto today, but compared to where it was in 1855, it's miles ahead.

Well, slightly better.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Signed Up for Vampire Books for Blood!


Want to check out some fun vampire-themed stories this Halloween season?

Want to support a very important cause at the same time?

Vampire Books for Blood is an author-created and driven donation drive run every October to raise money for the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services. I could go on, but here are the details directly from the source:


Author Scott Burtness created the Vampire Books for Blood (SM) event in 2014. It is held annually from October 1st through October 31st.

The event brings authors and publishers of vampire-themed books together for a shared goal: to raise money for the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services.

Participating authors and publishers pledge to make a financial donation to the American Red Cross or Canadian Blood Services at the conclusion of the event. The donation can be an amount per book sold in October, a percentage of royalties earned from book sales in October, or a flat amount at the conclusion of the event.

When an author or publisher pledges their support, their book is listed on the "Vampire Books for Blood" event website. The website allows readers to easily browse books from participating authors and publishers, and link to where the books are sold. By purchasing a book from a participating author or publisher, readers know they're helping that author or publisher support the life-saving work of a vital organization.

Blood products are perishable and the need is constant to help prevent a shortage and ensure an adequate blood supply for patients. Red blood cells have a shelf life of only 42 days and platelets just five days, so they must be replenished constantly – there is no substitute.

Proceeds from “Vampire Books for Blood” will help the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services organize, promote, and manage blood drives, as well as support other great services.
Donating blood is of course an important responsibility - there is always a critical need for blood supplies to perform life-saving procedures. But if for some reason you can't donate blood, chipping in a few dollars is the next best thing. Now you can do that, and check out some great new books at the same time!

I've signed up for Vampire Books for Blood. I pledge to donate $1 to Canadian Blood Services for every copy of Hell Comes to Hogtown sold during the month of October. There are lots of other authors signed up as well, so head over to the website to see if there are any books you'd like. It's a win-win situation for everyone!

And hey, if you're a writer yourself (I know there are a few of you who read this blog) and you have an appropriately bloody book, why don't you sign up yourself? Submissions are open until October 15th!

Will you be supporting the American Red Cross or Canadian Blood Services this Halloween season?
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

And Summer Ends... (#IWSG September)

I missed the August IWSG post (my second miss this year!) for a very good reason. No, not because I was on vacation, but because some idiot ran into our car. Again.

Which, incidentally, was the main reason I missed that previous post, too.

Like the last time, it was completely the other driver's fault and fortunately I was the only one in the car (no babies this time!) but for various reasons this one was much more complicated and involved fighting with insurance companies and numerous trips and calls to the police station, all while we were on vacation half-way across the country no less. I was fuming and seething for a week and thus missed the post.

Amazingly, it all worked out and didn't up costing me a cent, nor should it affect our premiums. That was a huge relief to find out last week. Hopefully the other driver also loses their license over this, but that's not up to me to decide.

The vacation was rocky, as in addition to the car accident the baby also got sick for a few days, but my older son had the time of his life getting to visit (and be spoiled by) his grandparents, getting to play with his cousins and go camping and to the beach and a variety of other things. So if nothing else at least he should have good memories of the trip. And hey, I also actually sold a bunch of books to my relatives, so that was pretty fun. I have no idea if any of them will actually read them, but it's still awesome that they're being supportive.

Actual picture of me and the boy.
All that said, I actually did get a good bit of writing time in since I've got back to town, and have actually made some solid progress on several projects. Projects which I won't discuss since I've learned my lesson about hyping things before they come to fruition. I'll just keep it to saying I'm happy with the way things are progressing. :-)  And you know what? After a very busy and stressful two weeks on "vacation," it was actually very nice to get back to a regularly writing schedule.

Speaking of writing schedules...

IWSG September Question: How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

I've mentioned this a few times so any of my regular followers (both of you) have heard it but it's worth repeating. I have a young family and a full-time job with a hour-and-half commute each way, so I don't really have a lot of free time... except that I've taken to use that commute time for writing. My latest book, Hell Comes to Hogtown, was written almost entirely on the bus with my laptop on my knees.
Actual picture of my writing office.
It's not an ideal way to write, but you do what you have to do. It's part of my daily routine now, and I actually feel pretty crummy if I don't get my morning and evening bus-writing time for some reason (usually because I fall asleep). Just like any priority, if you want to write, or if you have to write, you find a way to make it work. If I didn't have the bus, I would probably just end up sleeping even less, which is probably not healthy because I don't sleep much as it is...

Oh and hey, one other nice little highlight of August: I got my first reviews for Hogtown, and so far, so good! I mean, Amazon deleted them for a few days, but then they came back, so huzzah! We're off and running.

Till next time...

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group here.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Text-to-Speech Software is a Valuable Editing Tool


I don't think that anyone disagrees that having an editor is an integral part of your writing process. (Well, maybe some people do, but that's an argument for another day.) (Here's a great one for hire, in case you're looking.) But there are times when you will have to do some editing yourself. Maybe it's to prepare a piece before sending to an agent or publisher. Maybe you're so embarrassed at your awful grammar that you want to polish it a little before sending it to your real editor. Or maybe you're just starting out in self-publishing and can't afford a real editor yet and you're not convinced your cousin Eddy did a good enough job proofreading.

What was my point? Oh yeah, every writer needs to edit their own work. Which is really hard. One, because every word is a like precious little baby (hint: they're not), and Two, you stare at those words so hard for so long that it's impossible to look at them objectively and notice mistakes. As you read, you hear them in your head the way you think they're supposed to sound, not the way they're actually written.

Oh man, I am such a brilliant writer...
Having someone else read it is a big help, because they will pick up lots of things you don't notice. Having someone else read it ALOUD is even better, because they will very quickly pick up (and stumble over) things that don't sound right. Of course, most of us don't have friends and family members willing to sit down and read our manuscripts out loud to us (I'm sure my loving wife would, if she didn't have a million other better things to do than humour my obsessiveness). But you know what? Most of us have a dear friend in our pocket right now that can help us make our editing easier, and our writing better.

Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology is a really cool feature that I'm sure your smartphone possesses. It does exactly what it claims, converting printed text on the screen into audio. Technically it's meant as an accessibility feature for those who have trouble visually, but it has many other uses. The biggest one is having it read your manuscript back to you, forcing you to experience your work in a new format, which will allow you to pick up on typos, incorrect grammar, weird sentence structure and a multitude of other errors in your writing. These errors become painfully obvious when read out-loud, errors that you would glaze over when you're reading it, because again, your brain and your eyes are telling you what you EXPECT to be there, not what's actually there. It's much, much harder to do that when you're listening to the story in someone else's voice.

No, my book is awesome. You're just not reading it properly.
I find it's also helpful for picking up on plot inconsistencies and bad word choices. For some reason I pick up on things better when I hear them, and realize "oh, hey, I said that here, but I said something contradictory a few pages previous." The best one is noticing when you use the exact same adjective or verb three times in two sentences, which for some reason I never notice when reading it, but sounds SUPER obvious and terrible when read aloud.

Sure, the audio quality is often terrible and mechanical. Honestly it sometimes it sounds like Stephen Hawking tripping on really bad drugs. But this is actually a good thing. The computer is not trying to make the words sound good - it's just repeating back exactly what's on the page in a consistent, monotone format. There's no way you can get lost in the story or listen to the poetry of it or whatever. It's just the words, and whether or not they're the right words. If it hits a snag, it will IMMEDIATELY become apparent. Sometimes painfully so.

I'm sorry. This manuscript is so terrible, I refuse to read another word.
On my Android phone, I use a free App to convert the book to an Epub (I currently use Ebook & Document Converter), then open the file in Google Play Books, which comes with the phone and has a built in TTS-reader. It's really simple, and Android comes pre-loaded with dozens of different voices in various languages and accents, both male and female. Plus you can download numerous other voices on Google Play which are often of higher quality (but be forewarned that the files are HUGE).

The system will work very similarly on your iPhone, though you will probably need a slightly different app to convert and possibly read your files (I'm pretty sure you can get Google Play Books on iOS).

I like using Google Play Books because it will continue reading the book aloud while I do other things, but if I hear something I don't like I can quickly pause it, highlight the offending section and then continue. When I have time later I can go back and easily go through my highlights, fixing the problems. It's all terribly convenient.

No, seriously. I'm editing my book, right now.
Speaking of having multiple voice options, I've discovered that after I've listened to the document and made my edits, it's very helpful to go back and listen to again with a different voice and accent. Because of the variety of ways people/programs pronounce the same words, you will actually notice different errors depending on the voice. I put a recent short story through the process three times, and found new mistakes each time. For instance, I used the word "expense" where I meant to use "expanse," but the first two voices said it so similarly to "expanse" that I didn't notice it until the third pass. (I also can't solely blame the computer, because I had read it a dozen times without picking up on it, too.)

I'm sure you can use TTS technology on your desktop computer for similar effect, though I've never done it myself so I can't speak to it. If anyone has tried this, please let us know in the comments.

What do you think? Have you tried using TTS as an editing tool? I love it, but I'm sure there are detractors. Let us know in the comments below!
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Amazon is Deleting My Reviews and I Think I Know Why

Note: Make sure you stick around until the end so you can get the post-script for this story.

It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose. It's one of the trials all new authors face with Amazon.

I was really excited a few weeks ago when I FINALLY started getting reviews for Hell Comes to Hogtown. It's been out for two months so I was getting nervous. While I had some comments from people saying "Yeah, it's great," no one had committed words to paper (well, bytes on a website) to officially endorse the book. When it finally happened I was thoroughly relieved that I hadn't been wasting my time. In fact, it absolutely made my day when the first review was quite glowing and was from someone I didn't really even know.

After that my friends and family jumped on the bandwagon and started leaving reviews, too. I was getting hyped, now. I was actually building momentum! Maybe I'll actually get a similar number of good reviews that I did with Ten Thousand Days - I hope so, because I think Hogtown is a much better book. I was flying high.

And then two of my reviews were deleted.

Now, I've heard the stories of reviews being removed from many other authors, so I wasn't surprised. I know it happens, and sometimes you can't even determine why. Did Big Jungle think you paid someone to write it? Created a fake account to leave a review for yourself? I've heard rumours that Amazon actually goes after people who are linked to you on social media sites, which is iffy because obviously that's how people connect with fans these days, but at the same time I wouldn't put it past them.

Now, full disclosure, the reviews that were removed were from a good friend of mine and my mother-in-law, so I could see Amazon claiming a conflict of interest. Of course, how do they know they were related to me? Lots of other people I know have had books reviewed by friends and relatives, too. I myself had friends and relatives write reviews on Ten Thousand Days, and they're still there. Why did they target these two particular reviews?

Sounds like a case for these dapper gentlemen.
I'm pretty sure I figured it out. Both reviews that were removed were specifically on, And what do those two people whose reviews were flagged have in common with me and the site? Both of their addresses are linked to my account, because I've sent items to them that I've purchased on Amazon. Linking those user accounts to me and flagging them would have been the most obvious thing in the world to Big Jungle.

Of course, those purchases were made years ago and had nothing to do with this book, but I can obviously see that it could look suspicious. And the reviewers did have a personal connection to me, so it's not like I can really argue that they were unbiased. But it still sucks. I'm just leaving my story here as a warning to other writers.

All that said...

I am greatly interested in reviews from people who are not personally connected to me. I will gladly provide electronic copies in exchange for an honest review. As you all know it's a tough world out there to get eyes on your product. If anyone is interested in a horror-comedy with oddball characters and a lot of cuss words, please hit me up in the comments below!

* * *

Fitz is a broke night manager for a grubby comic book store. His only friend Dee is a drugged-out, womanizing pro-wrestler. Together they’re the most pathetic losers on the face of the planet. Their lives cannot possibly get any worse.

And then they’re implicated in the kidnapping of the prime minister’s wife.

On the run from the cops, Fitz and Dee discover there is something far worse than the RCMP stalking the dark streets of Toronto. They are being hunted by an ancient demon of unspeakable evil with an insatiable taste for blood... or maybe it’s just your run-of-the-mill giant murderous hobo?

Either way, life in prison might be better than whatever the creepy drifter has in store for them…

* * *

EDIT: At some point during the day I posted this, my deleted reviews actually reappeared on Amazon. I have no idea why, they had been gone for two days so I assumed they were lost forever. Maybe it was just a glitch? Maybe Amazon customer service actually looked into it after I contacted them on Twitter? Who knows? But let's just say I'm happy they're back and I'm sorry for the fire drill. :-(
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do or Learn About After Reading Them

Have you ever read a book that made you go: "Huh, that's cool, I'd like to know more about that."  Maybe it's skydiving, maybe it's an ancient language, maybe it's just walking through the gawddang wilderness for months like in Lord of the Rings. Books are supposed to whisk you away to other worlds, to drop you into the drama and action, so of course in this imaginary world you could picture yourself doing different or interesting things. 

Here are a few of those things I wanted to try:

(Credit for the list idea goes to The Broke and the Bookish blog)

10. Sword smithing
The Complete Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

Now, this is a fantasy novel so I'm sure the depiction of smithing is way off. And the blacksmiths involved all end up suffering terrible, grim fates. And I know I couldn't actually forge a sword with god-like power. But damn, I still want to forge my own sword. You could also add Highlander 3 as an inspiration to bend melted metal into sharp shapes.

9. Apocalypse Prepping
The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

Brooks is so logical and matter-of-fact about the whole thing, OF COURSE I should go out and stockpile weapons and food. It's not a matter of "IF" the zombies will rise, but "WHEN."

8. Visit England
Pillars of the Earth / World Without End by Ken Follett

I almost said "build a cathedral," but I would be content with just visiting them. I would be pretty happy to see just about any part of Europe, really. History in North America is great and all, but I want to see buildings that are a thousand years old. I imagine building a castle or cathedral would be really hard, anyway.

7. Brush up on my art history
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I took a few art history courses in university, but I wish I could take more time and explore it more, particularly visiting some museums or even overseas (see item 8 above) to see first hand all the stuff we were talking about in those gawdawful boring lectures. I guess I could also see them in The Da Vinci Code movie, but I don't think I could look at Tom Hanks' terrible haircut for two hours.

6. Bookbinding
Bookbinding Materials and Techniques, 1700-1920 by Margaret Lock

This one's cheating a bit because I already wanted to learn more about bookbinding, that's the reason I read the book. I've always been fascinated with how books are made and have tried my hand a few times, but I've never had access to the full array of tools and equipment to do it properly. To be honest, I would probably just end up hurting myself, but I still gotta give it a go, you know?

5. Write a quasi-historical epic of Newfoundland
As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador by Kevin Major

Newfoundlanders are far more proud of their history than most Canadians. It's no surprise that when this series of provincial histories was released in the early 2000s, the Newfoundland edition sold 3-5 times as many copies as any other in the series, despite being one of the smallest provinces. I think there's definitely a place for a big fictional epic; I'm just torn on whether it should lean more to the historical side or the fantastic.

4. Punch Robert Jordan in the Balls
Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Not to speak ill of the dead, but to be fair Jordan was still alive when I read this book. I got through six volumes of the Wheel of Time and just had to give up. It's a cool world with lots of great ideas, but the books are just waaaaaay too long. Nothing happens for the first 400-500 pages of each book (besides summarizing the previous book). I blame the Wheel of Time (and Christopher Paolini) for my distaste of traditional fantasy fiction these days. 

3. Write a better zombie RPG
Dead Reign RPG by Kevin Siembeida

There are lots of great zombie-themed RPGs out there, but Dead Reign was the first I bought, and I was hugely disappointed by cavernous gulf between the great premise of the idea and the godsmackingly-terrible execution of it. I had to completely rewrite the rules to make something playable out of it, not realizing at the time there were lots of other options available.

2. Become a professional wrestler
A Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho

I kinda always wanted to be a professional wrestler, but next to everyone else's books, which are usually about drug abuse and failed marriages and suicide attempts, Jericho's first memoir makes wrestling seem like a joy. His stories are so fun and hilarious, it makes professional wrestling seem like a GREAT idea.

1. Learn more about Canadian History
Hell Comes to Hogtown by C.D. Gallant-King

Yes, this is a cheap plug for my own book. Yes, I think you should buy it and read it right away. And no, it doesn't really have anything to do with Canadian history. I did, however, have to look up a number of minor things as I was writing it to check some facts, and I found numerous stories I would love to know more about, and maybe even fictionalize some day. 

(Also, you should totally pick this one up.)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010. Check it out right here:
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