Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Real Origins of Canada


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This Saturday, July 1st, is the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation (it's also the 101st anniversary of another important Canadian event you can read about here). It is not the anniversary of Canada's independence, nor is the date of the founding of the country. And it's certainly not the beginning of people living here. No, that goes back way, way farther than 150 measly years ago.

The history of Canada begins with the arrival of the first nomadic aboriginal peoples somewhere between 50,000 and 17,000 years ago to the Northern extremes of the Alaska and the Yukon. They were unable to move any further south due to glacial ice. By 16,000 years ago, the ice had receded enough that these Paleo-Indian people were able to migrate further south and populate the continent. Most of them continued their hunter-gatherer ways, but a few settled down to more permanent communities. For example, a recently-discovered site on the Haida Gwaii islands (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia may be the oldest inhabited site in Canada. Ruins found off the coast indicate that people lived there at least 13,700 years ago.


Even more incredibly, nearly fourteen millennia later, the Haida people still live there.

Well, sort of. We'll get there, but as usual with these stories, it's going to get pretty bleak.

The islands of the Haida Gwaii archipelago were much larger thousands of years ago, which explains why the ruins are currently underwater. It was also probably attached to the mainland, which explains how the Haida ended up there in the first place. The ancestors of the Haida were the Koryaks, a nomadic people who originated in Russia and traveled across the Bering straight during the last ice age. The Koryaks practiced a form of Raven animism that evolved into spiritual practices still followed by the Haida today. The Haida also developed their own distinct language as well as a complex class system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens. Links and diversity were gained through marriage between the clans. This system was also important for the transfer of wealth within the Nation, as the two clans were reliant on each other for the building of longhouses, totem poles and other items of cultural importance.

Haida long houses and totem poles, circa 1878.

The Haida were a seafaring, matriarchal society. Their nation comprised some 100 villages in the Islands and were noted traders, developing trade routes with other First Nation tribes on the mainland as far south as California.

First contact with Europeans came in the 1770s, and as usual ruined everything. Haida Gwaii became an important part of the fur trade and the gold rush through the 18th and 19th centuries, and its "ownership" was disputed between the British and America. The Haida seemed to put little stock in these European claims, however, and like most First Nations alternated between helping and hindering the Colonials. The Haida were not to be trifled with at sea, though, and sunk or captured numerous European ships during this time. It was searching for the wreck of one of these ships that scientists discovered the ancient Haida site I previously mentioned.

The remains of a 2,500 year-old stone and wood fish weir (a sort of fish trap).

The Haida Gwaii islands themselves have been called by some the "Galapagos of the North," due to its unique climate and terrain. Thanks to its isolation from the mainland and favourable coastal winds, it has developed a distinct biocultural zone with many endemic (unique) plants and animals, including subspecies of black bears, otters and bats, as well as the Nootka cypress, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce not seen on the mainland.

One famous sitka-spruce in particular was the Kiidk'yaas ("Ancient Tree" in the Haida language, or the Golden Spruce), a one-of-a-kind 300-year-old spruce with a rare genetic mutation - a lack of chlorophyll in the tree's branches caused it to take on a striking yellow-gold colour. According to Haida mythology the Kiidk'yaas came about when a young boy disrespected nature and caused a terrible storm to descend on his village. When he and his grandfather fled the village, the grandfather warned the boy not to look back. The boy disobeyed, and was immediately turned into the Golden Spruce where he stood. The Haida people said the tree would stand to be admired until the last generation.

Kiidk'yaas was cut down by an unemployed engineer, Grant Hadwin, as a protest against illegal logging in 1997 (see, I told you we ruin everything). Hadwin was arrested and released on bail, then disappeared while trying to paddle his kayak 100 kilometres to the mainland in the dead of winter. The remains of his kayak were discovered later that year, though Hadwin was never seen again. I'd like to think that Mother Nature meted out her own revenge.

At the time of Colonial contact, the population of the islands was about 30,000. In the 1800s, 90% of the population was killed off by small box and other European diseases, so that by 1900 only 350 Haida people remained. Today the population of the islands now sits at 4500, with 45% identifying as Haida. Of their unique language, only 50 speakers are known to remain, and all are over 70 years old. Though efforts continue to be made to preserve their culture, in 2006 UNESCO named some of the islands as historic sites, and referenced the Haida as a "vanished" people.

Of course, Canada hasn't completely ignored the very first people of these lands. They may not always treat them well, but at least they don't pretend they don't exist. Usually. The artwork on the back of the old Canadian $20 bill (the one before our current plastic space money) actually featured artwork by a Haida artist, Bill Reid. The image on the far left is of Raven and the First Men (which is actually pretty cool so I'll blow that up below), and the prominent image on the right is Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a massive bronze sculpture that sits outside the Canadian embassy in Washington DC. The background also depicts traditional Haida imagery.



All that is pretty cool, except that the imagery was changed with the advent of the new bank note series in 2012. Now the $20 bill depicts the Vimy Ridge Memorial, which is an important event to remember, but it's also a memorial to white people fighting other white people in another country. 

Anyway, Haida Gwaii remains an amazing and fascinating piece of Canadian history, as well as an unprecedented link to the past. It is a popular tourist site for both these reasons as well as its unique natural environment. It is a definitely a place we should strive to protect, learn from, and if we can, visit to experience it ourselves. Especially before it gets sucked into the Pacific by an earthquake.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Good Ol'-Fashioned Saturday Night Wrasslin'


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Hey it's time for my monthly pro-wrestling post that no one is going to read! ☺

This past Saturday I headed down to the local Knights of Columbus hall with my father-in-law to check out our local indy wrestling promotion, Capital City Championship Combat (C*4 for short). It was a night of laughs, thrills, poutine and watching athletic young men try to kill themselves for the enjoyment of a handful of people.

Now, those of you with limited knowledge of pro-wrestling have likely heard of World Wrestling Entertainment, also known simply as WWE, and formerly the World Wrestling Federation (which was changed to avoid confusing all those poor pandas).

Any excuse I can find to use this image.

What you may not know is that not all pro-wrestlers compete for this huge, billion-dollar multi-national corporation, because WWE is not the only company in the business, not by a long shot. Not only are there several other companies in the US alone with major TV deals (including the incredible Lucha Underground, which is available on Netflix!), but there are literally hundreds of smaller companies operating across North America, running local shows in high school gyms, barns, parking lots, bars, circus tents, veteran association halls and yes, even church basements and the Knights of Columbus. Basically anywhere you can squeeze in a wrestling ring.

These small, often low-budget affairs feature a wide range of talent, ranging from pasty, awkward kids with no training up to international stars who are considered by those in the business as some of the best performers in the world. Not to mention washed-up stars from yesteryear, guys who were on TV for the WWF back in the 80s, now in their 60s, still making the rounds and trying to make a payday on their past glories. Who shows up all depends on what the promoter can afford and what the audience is willing to pay.

Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, who was WWF Intercontinental Champion in the 1980s, now 65 years old and looks like he died ten years ago. He wrestled as recently as last month and has matches booked through the summer. Has anyone seen Mickey Rourke in the "The Wrestler?"

Some small towns run shows with just local kids who barely know how to fall without hurting themselves in front of audiences of a dozen people. In big markets like Los Angeles, some of these "independent" shows gain cult followings, drawing thousands of people and even attracting big name celebrities to the audience. In every case though, the local Saturday night wrestling show is a cultural event, a special attraction that draws a certain community together. In that way it's like any sport or performance, except the audience is very small and very niche. Those who love it adore it, and those who don't think it's stupid. It's like a lot of obsessive fandoms in that way.

C*4 Wrestling in Ottawa runs monthly shows in front of packed houses of 300-400 people. The wrestlers are usually on the higher end of quality, featuring mostly local talent from Eastern Canada and the North Eastern US, we're just lucky that most of those guys happen to be pretty good. They also sometimes bring in bigger names or guys on the cusp of hitting in big, like Kevin Steen before he became world champion Kevin Owens in WWE, or The Young Bucks just as they were becoming an international sensation and a mainstay in Japan.

The aforementioned Kevin Steen, about to be hit in the face with a fan's shoe by Michael Elgin at C*4 Wrestling. 

Because the small hall is so packed, the wrestlers often end up right in the audience faces, and if you're sitting in the first four-or-five rows you have to be constantly on the alert to jump out of the way if a wrestler falls (or jumps) out of the ring into your lap. It's all part of the charm. The guys in the ring are working hard to entertain the audience, whether through jokey comedy bits, high-flying, gymnastic acrobatics, or old-fashioned tough-guy slugfests. Because it's so intimate the wrestlers can interact more directly with the crowd, playing with them and off them, and it's a very different experience than watching it on TV or even live in an arena with thousands of people.


You thought I was kidding about people nearly killing themselves?

My father-in-law and I love hitting the show when we can because it's a chance to get out of the house and have a laugh and a fun night out for just twenty bucks plus the price of french fries. It's way more intimate and entertaining, for significantly less money, than going to a WWE show or an Ottawa Senators game. And how often in an NHL game do you have a sweaty player land in the seat next to you, stop to take a selfie, then hop back on the ice to keep playing without missing a beat?

Also, the NHL doesn't have Space Monkeys.
Photo Credit: Me

I'm not going to convince anyone who thinks wrestling is stupid to become a fan with this post, But I will urge you, if you ever get a chance to watch an independent wrestling show at your local high school or bar, consider taking a chance on a different kind of night out. Independent pro wrestlers are much like independent musicians, writers or stand-up comics - they're just regular people, trying to live their dream and make a living doing something they love. They're not making big money but they love entertaining their fans, and some are very, very good at what they do. Give them a chance. I promise they will literally put their bodies on the line to show you a good time.

Local Ottawa-area favourite and male stripper, Sexxxy Eddy. He'll show you a whole different kind of good time.



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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author MD Neu


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Today I continue my monthly interview series with another up-and-coming author, M.D. Neu. His book, The Calling, was recently picked up by Ninestar Press, plus he sounds like a fascinating guy I would like to hang out with. Should be a fun one, so let's get down to business!

THE INTERVIEW!

How much research do you do?
A ton.  (laughs) I have pages and pages of research for all my stories.  I want my novels to feel real to feel like this could be going on right now.  So, I spent, and still spend hours and hours doing research. For ‘A New World – Contact’ and ‘A New World – Conspiracy’ I talked to people in the military and I did a lot of digging in at NASA. I tried to make it all as accurate as possible.  Is it perfect?  Nope.  Did I take liberty? Yep. Was it fun?  Oh, heck yea.

For ‘The Calling’ I dug around a lot into the history of Ancient Rome, the Crusades, the Witch Trails, and a lot into mythology.  Again I have pages and pages of notes.  The trick I found with the ‘The Calling’ is that I had a lot more wiggle room.  I could modify and make up things for my story to work.

I remember while I was having ‘The Calling’ critiqued, someone hammered me, in a good way, on one of my character’s names. It’s a French name and it’s not spelled correctly.  This was intentional.  When she was in that part of the world was still controlled by Rome and she was a Gaul, so the name wouldn’t be correct now, but it was the name given to her by her creator.  When I explained that, the critiquer agreed and said, “oh that makes sense.  I didn’t think about that.” Now was I right?  Was he right?  Doesn’t matter. Because in the world I created for them, it was correct in the context of the story.

So, I do a lot of research, just so I have a good base for my stories.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
I totally let my books sit and stew.  I have to otherwise I get so wrapped into what is happening that I miss things.  Even after letting it sit, I still miss things in the editing process.  That is why I love the Writer’s Group I belong to. They catch some of the stupid silly stuff I miss (as well as bigger things), which helps with the editing process.  I don’t think my manuscripts would be in the shape they are now without these wonderful writers.

Have you written works in collaboration with other writers, and if so: why did you decide to collaborate and did it affect your sales?
I’ve only written two things with a co-writer.  First, I wrote in collaboration with another writer was a play ‘The Faux Play – Stereotypes’.  It was for a class and there were no sales involved. Sadly, the friend I co-wrote the play with has since passed away. Second, I co-wrote a Home Remodeling Workbook.  We did it for a contactor and an interior designer who gave them to their clients to help them work through what they wanted to do and what it was going to take.  So, there weren’t really any sales to worry about.

Any amusing stories about marketing books that happened to you?
At this time all my marketing efforts have been geared to building up my reputation and creating my brand.  However, I do have a funny happenstance.  If you type in MDNeu into a search engine don’t be surprised if you find a lot of medical information and specialist. That isn’t so much the case anymore, but it happened a lot at first and it was something that I found very funny.

Are you worried about making marketing/Social Media mistake that can cost you and wreck your reputation as a writer?
Like everything, nothing is 100% risk free and there is potential to make mistakes in everything we do.  We see it over and over again in Social Media, something someone says, either in or out of context, causes an uproar, and people are rioting in the streets. Literally. These things happen.

What I’m worried about–is my big mouth.  I have strong opinions about a great number of subjects so keeping those opinions to myself or finding a very diplomatic way to express them is key.  Does this always work?  Nope.  Am I worried about total and complete embarrassment? Yep. Have I pissed off people by accident? Oh God yes and sadly I’ve lost a few friends because of it.

The best way, I think, to stop the flow of hate and to salvage your reputation is to cut it all off at the start.  Don’t hide from it.  Own up to it, if you were way out of line or wrong then move on.  Apologize if need be, but don’t be fake.  Agree to disagree. Be professional and honest.  If it is something that you believe in 100% don’t back down, stay true to yourself and what you said.  However, remember what you said, because in our online world these comments and remarks don’t go away. Ever.  So, if you are a hypocrite expect to be called out on it.

If all else fails, keep your strong personal opinions to yourself and stick to the facts. That’s what I do, or at least try to do.

THE WRITER!

MD Neu is a Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel.  Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be.  Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels.  MD Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, and Kim Stanley Robinson an odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society MD Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing. Wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When MD Neu isn’t writing he works for a non-profit and travels with his husband of eighteen years.

THE LINKS!

You can find him on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/mdneuauthor/ on Twitter here: @Writer_MDNeu His scribbles and more about his writing can be found here: www.mdneu.com His blog can be found here: www.mdneu.com/blog/
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A One-Legged Man in an Ass-Kicking Contest (#IWSG June 2017)


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Its IWSG day. Here's a good one to feel insecure about.

About a month ago I submitted my book, Ten Thousand Days, for Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. For those who don't know, Mark is the very successful and respected author of fantasy books such as Prince of Thorns, Prince of Fools and the David Gemmell Award-winning Emperor of Thorns. In addition to his success, Mark is a big supporter of new up-and-coming writers, especially independent writers, and so for the last three years he has lent his name to the aforementioned SPFBO.

Each year between 250 and 300 self-published authors submit their books to Mark, who delegates them to ten respected book review blogs. Each reviewer then pours over the books and chooses their favourite of their bunch, and the top ten books are then read and reviewed by all the blogs so that a single winner will be chosen. The full list of this year's 300 entries can be found here.

Not all the books will be read cover-to-cover and be reviewed of course, but the reviewers promise to give them all a chance and review as many as they can. Officially there is no prize, but getting chosen as a top contender and especially a finalist is a huge marketing boost, as it will result in numerous reviews on many top sites that will get your name and book in front of tons of potential new readers. It's so much buzz, in fact, that last year at least two of the finalists were approached by major publishers with the offer of contracts.

Last year's winner. This guy is now a big deal in my circles, and this book (and its sequel) will be re-released from Penguin/Random House next year.

The field of competition is wide, since the only real requirement for the contest is that your book is self-published. On the one hand, you have people entering who have literally just hit "publish" on Amazon with their very first book, who had it edited by their cousin and paid $5 for a cover on Fiverr. On the other end of the spectrum you have hybrid authors who have published traditionally, have large self-published back catalogs, and are well-known names in the field. There are people in the contest who run their own successful small publishing houses, or have agents. This is a business and a livelihood for them and they invest thousands of dollars into their covers and editors, and produce quality rivaling anything put out by the major publishers. One of the contestants is currently in the news for having just signed a $100,000 deal with Audible for the audio rights to his next book (he's sold 500,000 copies of his last half-dozen books or so).

Where exactly is the line for "up-and-coming" author, anyway?

Am I intimidated and insecure about going up against this kind of competition? Damn right I am. In the immortal words of Jim Ross, I feel about as prepared for this as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. I fully expect to be eliminated in the earliest wave of cuts. If I'm lucky I may get a polite "good try" review.

Pictured: A polite, "good try" review.

Some of the folks involved in the contest are currently running "fantasy brackets" (like in fantasy sports) to pick who they think the winners might be, based on simply the covers, blurbs and current reviews for the books. Imagine my surprise when someone actually picked Ten Thousand Days as one of the finalists (they picked it for top spot in the Fantasy-Faction bracket). I know it doesn't mean anything, the person who chose it is not a judge, nor have they even actually read the book, but it was a pleasant surprise.

So anyway, the contest is just ramping up and will be ongoing for awhile (it takes a long time to go through 300 books). In the next couple of months though, if anyone wants to drop my name or mention Ten Thousand Days anywhere, it would be much appreciated. Review copies of the new-and-improved version is available to anyone who wants one.

June IWSG Question: Did you ever say “I quit?" If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

All the time! Then I usually just take a nap and I feel better.

Seriously though, I've never officially "quit" writing, though there have been times when I've fallen into a lull and not written very much. But other than six months here or there I've been officially "writing" since high school, so over twenty years now. That's how long I've actively been composing words for the purpose of other people reading them. If you included stories I wrote for English classes in school (which was always my favourite assignments) I'm at about thirty years.

The lulls are usually caused by periods when I'm just really busy or tired or feeling down, and I can't find the time and the motivation to put the words down on the page. I haven't really quit, I don't think I could quit writing any more than I could quit eating lunch. It's just part of what I do. But sometimes you need a break, and ultimately those periods of downtime help you recharge, I think.

One last thing...


I just released a brand new (rather long) short story, "Revenge of the Lycanterrancephalopod" on Amazon. It's the sequel to my mildly-received story, "Tentacles Under a Full Moon." Both stories are very dark comic fantasy tales (Grindark? Grimlark? Grimdork?), and are full of violence, profanity and crass humour. Reader discretion is advised.

I decided to put both stories on Amazon KDP Select to give it a whirl. So if you have an Unlimited account, you can pick them up for free anytime. For everyone else, both "Revenge" and "Tentacles" are FREE to download for the next three days (June 7-9) so grab a copy now! If you like weird, obscene and hilarious fantasy, this is for you! Or maybe it's not, whatever. But it's free, right?

Blurb is below.

A serious sequel to a serious story. A story about grim, dark, hilarious misery.

SUGGESTED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES: Contains violence, coarse language, and alleged dwarf ejaculate. Allegedly.

One year after the great battle between the Werebear and the Landopus in the Barony of Amorous Felines in the Kingdom of Dyskovenia, a great evil has returned to once again scour the land. This new threat is both hairy AND slimy, as well as thoroughly indestructible.

A new group of heroes has risen to combat the threat, and this time, they mean business. They've brought along an inexperienced elf, a disgusting dump dwarf, a foul-mouthed uff and a vampiric chicken.

Maybe this isn't going to work out after all...

PICK-UP REVENGE OF THE LYCANTERRANCEPHALOPOD FOR FREE!

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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 at http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Indian-Canadian Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE World Heavyweight Title


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On May 21, Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to become the 50th WWE World Heavyweight Champion, as well as the first-ever WWE World Champion of Indian descent. Billed from "Punjab, India," before his shocking upset win last week, Mahal was best known for wearing a turban to the ring and speaking punjabi in his interviews (well, besides a brief-stint when he wore leather pants and was part of a comedy rock trio with a Scottish guy and a ginger trailer park redneck - wrestling is weird). Wearing foreign clothes and speaking a foreign language has been a surefire way to make a wrestling villain for decades, ever since we had German Nazi wrestlers after World War II and Soviet Russians during the Cold War. There was also a period in the mid-2000s when they tried it with Middle-Eastern terrorists, but that went over really badly.

What is my point, besides the fact that wrestling is terribly racist? Like most of his villainous predecessors, Jinder Mahal is not quite what he seems. Like infamous Nazi wrestler Hans Schmidt and Soviet Ivan Koloff, Jinder Mahal is actually from Canada.

Ivan Koloff, born Oreal Perras, from Ottawa, Ontario. Maybe wrestling is just racist against Canadians?

Born Raj Singh Dhesi in Calgary, Alberta in 1986. Unlike his predecessors, at least Mahal is actually of Punjabi-Indian descent (Hans Schmidt - real name Guy Larose - was Quebecois). His uncle is Gama Singh, another famous Indian wrestler, and one of his first trainers along with Bad News Allen, a famous African-American wrestler who made his home in Calgary. With that kind of lineage, Mahal started off his career on the right foot. He began training in 2002 at just 16 years old and joined the big leagues, World Wrestling Entertainment, in 2011. From the start, he always played up his Indian heritage, because it was a simple (again, racist) gimmick that made it easy for people to boo him.

I'm sure it was those early lessons from Gama and Bad News that guided the young Mahal's decisions. Gama also played up his Indian heritage, and Bad News was famous for playing a streetwise black brawler from the  New York (to be fair, he actually was a streetwise black brawler from New York - but also an Olympic medalist in Judo). Both went far with their stereotypes, but neither made it to quite the height of Mahal's recent success.

Critical to Jinder's success is his supernatural quantity of veins.

We all know that pro-wrestling is scripted, and that champions are chosen not necessarily because of their skill but because they can make their company money. There have been criticisms that Mahal is just a mediocre wrestler with a boring, old-fashioned character, but obviously the WWE sees something in him. It's true that the last year he has worked his ass off, getting into incredible shape and throwing himself fully into whatever he's asked to do. But there are plenty of guys in that boat, what makes Jinder so special?

I'll give you a clue: It rhymes with 1.3 billion people in India.

WWE is a global business. While it's a house-hold name in North America and most of Europe, it's always trying to get into new markets, especially the huge, untapped markets of India and China. India loves professional wrestling. Western wrestling shows there are rare, but always play to enormous crowds. WWE recently signed a new TV deal to bring their product directly into Indian homes, but they needed a face that the population could relate to and get behind.

Hello, Jinder.

There are also rumours he got a raise for nearly taking off an Irishman's head with an elbow.

Mahal is very aware of his position, and why he's being pushed in the direction he's going. He was in the right place at the right time, but he worked hard to be in that place, in order to get that lucky break. Wrestling works like most other types of show business. At the same time, though, he's also acutely aware that he's now a role model for Indian kids around the world, and even if he's playing a villain on TV, he wants to take that position seriously and show his heritage proudly. Hell, even though he's a villain in the US, it's quite possibly he'll get cheered overseas for beating up Americans.

Even Canada is proud of their new champion. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta took a moment last week to actually congratulate their native-born son on his big win.

Pictured: Not the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Will the WWE make Mahal's reign something memorable and significant? Or will he be just another cowardly foreign bad guy, looking like a chump in every match and just keeping the belt warm until another the next smiling (American) hero comes along to defeat him? History would suggest that it's probably the latter. Despite claiming to be a global phenomenon, the WWE is not known for its delicate handling of the international superstars. Take their last big Indian "star" wrestler, The Great Khali (Dalip Singh Rana). A legitimate huge name and famous movie star in his homeland (as well as appearing in big films in the US like The Longest Yard and Get Smart), in the WWE he was treated as a complete joke because he was awkward and talked funny.

Here's Khali is in a comedy team with a midget and the farting woman (no seriously, that was her gimmick). In wrestling, being foreign, small or a woman are all fair game for mockery.

Who knows. The WWE has struggled recently to become more responsible and less offensive, not just because they're targeting global markets but because it's goddamn 2017. This is not a 1950s Southern country fair. Some of the folks in charge keep forgetting that.

So good luck, Jinder, with overcoming decades of discrimination and oppression. Maybe you'll be the one to finally break through and prove that a "foreign" (again, Canadian) guy can go far in this wrestling business. As long as you keep putting on those awesome Bollywood-style dance shows, we'll be behind you.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

May the 40th Be With You


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May 25, 1977.

Forty years ago today, a film was released that would forever change movie-making and fandom in North America. I'm not going to go into an in-depth discussion of that movie, you can get that at countless sites around the internet. Instead, I'm going to reminisce on my personal experiences with that film and how it affected my own life. Plus I'm going to share some of my favourite backstage set photos.


Sir Alec Guinness celebrating his birthday on the set of Star Wars. Fun fact: Mark Hamill, still playing Luke Skywalker, is now older than Guinness was when they filmed the original movie.

Star Wars came out a few years before I was born. Return of the Jedi came out when I was only three, so I didn't get to see any of original trilogy in theatres during it's original run. I first remember watching Star Wars on broadcast television when I was about five or six. I was in my room watching it on a 12-inch black & white TV. I must have been sick, because I didn't usually have a TV in my room, my parents must have put it there because I was stuck in bed. I vividly remember watching Obi-Wan on Tatooine, a scene probably not far off from the one they were shooting in the photo above.

The next time you complain about CGI, remember that poor Kenny Baker spent YEARS inside that bucket for these movies.

I don't remember many details about it, but I remember I must have liked it because I had my parents tape it the next time it came on and then I watched it repeatedly. I loved the space ships and lightsabers and wanted some of my own, though by that time the toy craze was waning and the action figures and models were hard to find. When I visited my older cousin a few months later and discovered he had literally HUNDREDS of the figures, plus the Millennium Falcon and a TIE fighter and gads of other stuff, I was SO jealous. The biggest shock I got that visit though, was when my cousin told me that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father.

I couldn't believe it. I got mad at him for lying to me. He swore it was true. I of course hadn't seen The Empire Strikes Back yet, and my tiny mind could not process this new information. When we got home I made my parents rent Empire and Jedi (video rental was a big deal in the mid-eighties) and watched them as the ever-expanding universe exploded my mind. AT-AT walkers. Yoda. Ewoks. Jabba the Hutt. A GREEN lightsaber. I never did get any of the toys, but those images were permanently seared into my impressionable young mind. 

The thing I love the most about the original movie is how earnest everything is. The cast and crew really seemed to be having fun.

Eventually my interests moved on to other things. I got into other movies and cartoons, starting playing baseball and collecting hockey cards, got big into LEGO. Star Wars was always there, but it wasn't an over-powering central focus in my life. But then, in the early nineties when I was about 12 years old, it all came crashing back in a torrent.

Several events came together in a perfect storm for me. New Star Wars novels started appearing, featuring the continuing adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and an ever-growing cast of supporting characters. New toys started popping up, too. I was actaully get a little old for it, but I wasn't going to turn up my chance to finally get a lightsaber and a Darth Vader action figure. 

Oh, Chewie, you giant hairy pervert.

The biggest thing though, was that I had started to get into roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, and I discovered that Star Wars had a roleplaying game, too! I could create my own adventures and characters, and tell new stories with my friends. It was glorious! My friends and I played every day after school for months on end, crafting a broad, decades-spanning epic about our own rag-tag group of heroes: Kan Saga, the serious, studious Jedi student. Cris Bahn, the rebel-pilot-turned-businessman, who ran a galaxy-wide shipping business, settled down with a family, and then went out and started training as a Jedi. Wookie Nookie, the loser/stoner/artist/musician Jedi who had survived the Emperor's purge and eventually went on to become the greatest Jedi master of them all, taking over Luke Skywalker's school for him.

Our adventures went on for over a year (of real time, like I said, it was decades in the game), until in the epic climax Cris Bahn turned to the Dark Side and Kan Saga immediately murdered him. Our stories always ended that way.

You try to do this without laughing.

Now, because I had forged personal connections and bonds to it, Star Wars had dug even deeper into my soul. I was a massive, unabashed Star Wars nerd. I would not only celebrate the release of Star Wars every year on May 25, I would also celebrate September 25, Mark Hamill's birthday. I actually put up a picture of Mark on my locker one year for "Mark Hamill Day" and got beaten up for it. 

I don't know if nerd bullying still exists today, but it was certainly alive and well in 1994. 

Jump ahead twenty years. My interests and obsessions with Star Wars waxed and waned over the years, but recently something amazing has started to happen. My kids have started getting into Star Wars, and I'm getting to experience it for the first time all over again. 

Two Christmases ago, my son, just shy of four, got a little toy X-wing and TIE fighter. He was visiting me at work on Christmas Eve, and we ran down the hall together, saying "pew pew!" as the ships chased each other back and forth. Over the next year he got more toys, and Star Wars LEGO, and books, and pretty soon he was super into it. I didn't need to force (no pun intended) it on him - he picked it up quickly on his own and started to ask for more. I don't know if he just saw how excited I was for it, or if it genuinely touches some deep story-telling part of kids. Heck, even his 2-year old sister is getting into it, and she already knows all the characters - Leia, Dawth Vader, Chewie, Yoda, Awtoo, Treepio. It just seems to strike a chord with kids.

An incredibly rare sight: Harrison Ford laughing.


This past Christmas, I watched Star Wars with my son for the first time. He sat on the couch and snuggled into me as the Star Destroyer roared across the screen at the beginning, watching enraptured as the stormtroopers burst through the doors, blasting away at the rebels. It wasn't long before he was on his feet though, and I'll never forget the sight of him bouncing up and down in excitement as the X-wings attacked the Death Star at the end. 

A few weeks later, when we visited Legoland for his 5th birthday, we found a life-sized LEGO model of R2-D2. He insisted I give him my debit card, because he wanted to "protect the secret plans!" and re-enact the scene were Leia loads the Death Star plans into the droid.

It's all come full-circle. Star Wars, as a cultural phenomenon, has grown to unfathomable size. And as long as it keeps making money for Disney, new movies will keep coming out. And I'm okay with that. It's become something bigger than George Lucas, bigger than the original fans who loved it in the 70s and 80s. It now belongs to millions of people, and while it brings them all together it means something different to every one of them. 

I'm perfectly happy with that. I don't know if my kids will grow up to be Star Wars nerds or if they will show the movies to their kids with the same relish I did, but that's okay. It means something different to everyone. For me, I think my memories of watching my kids watching Star Wars are even better than my those of me watching it myself. 

Thank you for giving joy to my family and I for forty years. Here's to forty more.

Also, any time you start to take Star Wars too seriously, just remember that there's a sweaty, tanned dude in pink hotpants just out of frame.


BONUS PICS

Vanity Fair released a wonderful article and series of photographs by Annie Leibovitz yesterday about Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. You should go check them out here, but a couple of the photos were just so poignant I had to steal borrow them to share here. Enjoy.

Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill with Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy (probably the most powerful woman in Hollywood). Also, Carrie and Mark's dogs are there, because of course they are. I love this picture.

Mark and Carrie did this for forty years. Go back and look at some of those pictures of them as kids and try not to get choked up at this one.

Carrie Fisher with her daughter, Billie Lourd, who plays Lt. Kaydel Connix in The Force Awakens and the upcoming The Last Jedi. Sigh. We're still getting over you, Carrie.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Canadaland Guide to Canada is the Guide I Wish I Had Written


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Anyone who followed my A-to-Z blog posts last month know that I'm fascinated by weird and obscure Canadian trivia and history. Turns out I'm not the only one. The Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America) by journalist and podcaster Jesse Brown is a brand new, hilarious collection of weird, embarrassing, obscene and shameful facts about America's not-so-polite Northern Neighbour that reads like the textbook companion to my blog series.

This book tries really hard to make you feel ashamed to be Canadian. Canada is known as a polite and progressive country, and while that's generally true, we also have A LOT of skeletons in our closet. This book takes all of them out and shakes them in your face for the world to see. It dispenses a lot of myths about Canada that other countries have been parroting for so long that we've started to believe them ourselves.

Some of these stories are just silly. Like when American Civil War Veterans invaded Canada in 1866, the head of our military and soon-to-be first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, spent the entire battle drunk in his office. Or the fact that in the early days, the government tricked people into moving here by never mentioning the weather or the word "snow" in their immigration material.

Some of the stories are also horrifying. For example, did you know the Indian Act (which I mentioned in a previous post) was actually the inspiration for South African government's apartheid policy?

Some of the delightful characters you'll meet in the pages of the book.

It just goes on and on like that. Page after page of hundreds of short stories, facts and quotes, just hitting you like a machine gun full of Tim Hortons donuts. It's hilarious and cringe-worthy, but it's almost too much. I had to take breaks from it a few times because it was an onslaught of information overload. It's probably better to be read in snippets and funny chunks instead of trying to power through in one sitting. Much like a fine poutine, one cannot gorge oneself too deeply lest one risk throwing up all over the place (I think I screwed up that metaphor, but you get my point).

The level of sarcasm is orbital, which kind of actually distracts from the sheer ridiculousness and extreme unbelievability of some of the true stories. My one complaint is that Brown tries to be a bit too cheeky at times; the stories are over-the-top and funny by themselves, his snide remarks and sarcasm actually made me question which parts were actually true and which were his exaggeration, which led me to have to look up a few of the crazier-sounding facts. Which, come to think of it, may have been his point.

All in all, this is a terrific reference that every Canadian should read. So should every non-Canadian actually. God knows we can stand to be taken down a peg or three; we spend enough time mocking Americans that it's only fair we take a good hard look at ourselves, too.

In case you missed it, yes that is Drake canoodling a moose on the cover.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author Francisco Cordoba


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Today I continue my monthly interview series with another up-and-coming author, Francisco Cordoba. Francisco is the author of the upcoming Horsemen of Golegã. Let's get down to business!

THE WRITER!

A passionate romantic and obsessive equestrian, Francisco Cordoba has been writing for as long as he can remember. However, it’s only in the last few years, since completing his Master’s Degree in Linguistics, and suffering regular chastisement from his wife, that he has dared to fully unleash his muse. He loves writing about romance, relationships, adventures and sex.

Francisco lives a largely reclusive life tucked away in an old farmhouse, somewhere, with his wife, teenage son, four cats, two dogs, horse, ducks and chickens. He freely admits to loving them all, although he refuses to allow more than three bodies to occupy his bed at any one time. His six-book slightly erotic, paranormally romantic, mysteriously suspenseful, thrillingly adventurous, and possibly fictional debut series, The Horsemen of Golegã, will be self-published soon.

THE INTERVIEW!


What is your guilty pleasure?
Roast beef. My wife has a magical way with roast beef. She makes this incredible piece of meat, with potatoes and carrots, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy, and Yorkshire puddings (well, I make the Yorkshire puddings). Then I sit back with a glass of a particular Spanish wine I like and eat far more than recommended.

Most of the time we eat like rabbits, so the three or four times a year I truly go overboard isn’t too bad. Is it?

Where is one place you’d like to visit that you haven’t been to before?
There are many. But right now I’d like to visit Canada’s far north. Before I die, I’d like to visit one place that’s truly wide open and out of reach. I’ve always had this dream to visit Baffin Island in July.

What do you think makes a good story?
Emotion. Real emotion that comes from the lives and actions of characters as they interact with each other and the world around them.

In The Horsemen of Golegã, Candice and Bosanquet are the main characters, but there are a lot of secondary characters woven through the fabric of the stories. Can you give us a little insight into some of them?
Whew.  Well, I don’t want to give spoilers, but I’ll see what I can do.

Fiona Mason is Candice’s best friend. Before the series starts, the girls shared an apartment in Calgary, Canada. Fiona is a much bolder character than Candice, but she comes with her own set of baggage. She also gets her own story in the next series.

Maddie Tavares is Candice’s other friend and although very young, she’s had her share of battering by life. Maddie has a secret which she hides very carefully from everyone. Maddie will also get her own story.

Bosanquet has three close companions: Salazar--the enormous, silent and damaged man he calls ‘brother’; Anjo--the young Healer who lives on an emotional precipice; and the elderly and bad-tempered Diogo--whose deteriorating health and painful past cause him to erect massive emotional barriers between himself and the people who care the most.
These are the particular friends of our Main Characters, but there are many more interesting players who pop in and out of their lives.

Would you like to be a writer full-time?
Yes. I’ve had many other jobs, and they were great for a while, but much of what I’ve done in life as been teaching others how to do the things that I love to do, which hasn’t left me much time for actually doing. I want my chance to do now. Teaching may be a noble profession, but it’s no longer fulfilling for me. I want my chance to create.

THE LINKS!

Website and Blog: http://franciscocordoba.com/

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Monday, May 8, 2017

A-to-Z Reflections 2017


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So here we are at the end of another A-to-Z blog hop. This was my third time completing the "challenge," and I believe my most successful one so far, at least in terms of page views and engagement. I have a few takeaways from this year's experience, which I will now list in no particular order:

I Really Enjoyed My Theme This Year

I think other people did, too. People like weird trivia and history, and weird trivia about something people kinda know but don't know much about is a fun topic. My previous themes about stuff I'm afraid of and characters from my books I've never published were pretty weak, but everyone knows what Canada is, so they're more likely to click on the links. Plus, I can save this posts and refer to them in the future, because they're fun stories that are not time-sensitive or context-dependent.

I Miss the Linky List

Posting in the comments wasn't terrible, I suppose. Yes it was an extra step but it's not the end of the world. But what I really missed with a big, complete list with the topics highlighted where I could scan through blogs at my leisure. I could pick out topics I knew might interest me right away (humour, gaming, history) and start with those. With the commenting/link system it was just a shifting mess every day. It was a big crapshoot as to what you end up with. I actually didn't discover some of my favourite blogs of the bog hop until the last week of April, because I just hadn't seen them anywhere else.

People Love Winnie the Pooh

My post about the origins of the famous bear was easily my post popular day of the month. Most hits, most comments, and they're still going strong over a week later. People just love that gawddang bear.



Wednesdays Were a Terrible Day for Blogging

Usually Wednesday is a good for me, but this April they were by far the slowest day of the month. I would have thought the Invention of Basketball and the Vancouver Beer Parlours would have been popular topics, but nope. They were cursed by falling on Wednesday. Though I guess I can understand why people might be apprehensive about clicking on a post called Pussy Black-Face (even though it was one of my favourites).

Twitter is Terrible

I mean, just in general. But also it's a terrible way to find blog posts. Posts are quickly lost under an avalanche of folk re-posting other people's links (not retweeting, but creating a new tweet with the same info just so they can get their name on it), or spamming their own posts over and over again. Eventually it's just too much screaming.

I Really Don't Have Time to Do This in April

April is a very busy month for me at work. I knew this and so I tried to get my posts done in advance, but I only got about half of them in before the First. So I was still researching and writing new posts while reading and commenting on other blogs, posting my links every day and replying to comments. But I was just so busy with work at the same time, it was actually pretty stressful. That's why I didn't participate last year, and I'm going to have to seriously consider whether or not I'll do it again next year.

In what I hope will become a tradition, here's a GIF of Kenny Omega doing something stupid.

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That's it. Overall I did have fun this year and discovered some really cool blogs, so I can't complain too much. How about the rest of you. What did YOU learn?
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Wild Mystery Blogger Award Appears!


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I'm not quite sure what the difference is between a "blog hop" where you tag fellow bloggers and a "blog award," but I'm going to put my shame of self-congratulation aside for a moment and say, "Yay! I was nominated for a blogger award!"

It's one of those thingies where you fill out questions and link back to other bloggers. The questions can be pretty fun sometimes though, so let's see where this leads.

It also features handy step-by-step instructions, which is nice.

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01. Post the award on your page.


02. List the rules… working on it.

03. Thank who ever nominated you for the award.

I would like to thank True North Bricks. He runs an incredible LEGO-themed blog that I discovered through the A-to-Z Challenge, and now he's going to be my hook up for all the best deals on LEGO.

04. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.

This award originates from Okoto Enigma’s Blog, which I'm not at all familiar with but you can check it out.

05. Tell readers three things about yourself.

Man, I think everyone already knows the vaguely interesting things about me. I'm from Newfoundland, I have a degree in Theatre... How about that I married my high school sweetheart? As of this year we've been together 20 years (married for thirteen). Not only that, but we actually met at the bus stop on the first day of school. We're so disgustingly cute that our hometown paper wrote a story about us.

It's a small town. News is hard to come by.

06. Nominate people.

I definitely would have nominated True North Bricks… but he nominated me. Here are a few other awesome blogs that I loved from the A-to-Z Hop.

No Love For Fatties
Her theme for the A-to-Z was Harry Potter, and she just exploded fangirl geekiness all over the place, which was so much fun. But besides HP she's blogging just about every day with all kinds of fun and funny stuff, definitely check her out. Especially keep an eye on the "Just for Giggles" tag, featuring hilarious memes, stories about underwear and more ridiculous stuff about Canada.

The Old Shelter 
Sara Zama's blog is worth it just for incredible retrospective she did on 1940s Film Noir for the A-to-Z, but there's tons of other great stuff there, too. She did a similar series on the Jazz Age last year, and the Roaring Twenties the year before that.

Atherton's Magic Vapour
Melanie is just weird, but in a good way. I think we share a similar sense of humour and weirdness. For her A-to-Z she wrote new captions on 100-year old woodcut images from the Strand Magazine, and it was glorious. A couple of years ago she wrote a full mystery novel and dressed up in character for 26 different characters from the book, so she is serious about this A-to-Z thing.

07. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blogs.

Can I finish posting this first?

08. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question.

Here is what I was asked:

If you were a LEGO Minifigure, what would you look like?
I'll do you one better, here's my whole family:

I'm the guy with the hot dog.

If you could fulfill one dream right now, all expenses paid, what would it be?
Take the real-life version of my LEGO family to Euro Disney. I would dearly love to bring my kids to a Disney park, but there's no way I'm setting foot in the US for at least another four years. And hey, while we're in France we can check out some other cool stuff in Europe, too!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A bricklayer. No, really. I loved LEGO, and this was the logical extension of my interests.

Based on your answer to question #3, now that you are grown, did you reach your goal? Why or why not?
I still play with LEGO, but that's about it. Part of me wishes I had followed through with the bricklaying, though. It probably pays better than what I'm doing now. After bricklaying, the second thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a writer, so I'm kinda doing that now.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Don't give up on publishing so quickly. When I was in my mid-twenties I wrote my first novel and shopped it around, getting nothing but rejections. While I kept writing, I didn't bother trying to get anything published for ten years. Had I pressed on, I probably would have gotten something published, or maybe gotten in on the ground floor of the self-publishing craze. Either way I would be way farther ahead than I am now.

Here are my questions for my nominees: Because this is me, I changed it to one kinda normal question and four slightly more weird ones.

1 - What's your favourite book, and why?

2 - Who is your favourite professional wrestler?

3 - Favourite type of character to play in roleplaying games? If you don't play roleplaying games, how about video games? LARP? Cops & robbers? Monopoly? Do you do ANYTHING fun?

4 - You're about to be dropped into a fictional universe and be granted really cool powers - quick, which one do you want to be: A Jedi (or Sith) in Star Wars, a witch or wizard in Harry Potter, or a mutant in X-Men?

5- Favourite Canadian Prime Minister?

09. Share a link to your best post.

My favourite post on this blog was probably the original Toronto Circus Riot post, but I already re-blogged that for the A-to-Z so I'm not going to do it again. Instead I'll share my in-depth study of how Jesus Christ is a High-Level Dungeons & Dragons Cleric from my other blog, Rule of the Dice. I was really proud of that one but it doesn't get nearly as many hits as I think it deserves.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Daniel Radcliffe F*cks a Horse + An Apology (#IWSG May 2017)


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I'm not so much "insecure" today as I am "embarrassed."

Allow me to explain.

I was feeling really excited last month for IWSG. I had some cool big news that I was looking forward to sharing. But then something got screwed up with Blogger/Google and no one could leave comments on my post.

I was really annoyed and frustrated, and despite several efforts including contacting Google support could not figure out what was wrong. I saw lots of hits on the page, so I knew people were visiting, but there were no comments. Fortunately one eagle-eyed reader noticed there was an issue and contacted me via Twitter, otherwise I would have been extra weirded out. As it was, it just made me grumpy. The one day I had cool news and no one could congratulate me.

THAT's when I realized what I was doing, and I became embarrassed. I was sharing the news, looking for attention, and I felt ashamed. The recognition for a job well done was actually more important than doing the job well, and it pissed me off that I even felt that way. I've always told myself that I didn't need validation for my writing, that I did it for myself, and yet here I was looking for "likes" for the cheap ego boost.

So I apologize for that. Both to you and to myself.


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I never did figure out exactly what caused the commenting issue. I had no trouble with 26 other posts last month for the A-to-Z blog hop, so I know it was something in the code of that particular post (either the links or the pictures). I just couldn't pinpoint it. To be safe I'll be keeping links and such pretty light this month, just to be safe and to test it out.

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May IWSG Question: 
What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

I've said before that I write mostly fantasy so I don't have to do research, so I don't really have any cool stories from a writing perspective. However, in my old life as a theatre actor, I did do research for roles a couple of times, one of which was for the lead role in Equus.

Yes, that's the show where naked Daniel Radcliffe fucks a horse.
No, I'm not joking.

We were just doing a studio show of select scenes for class (so fortunately/unfortunately I didn't have to do the naked horse fornication bit), but I did have to learn about horses. So, the cast and the director went to a ranch for the day to learn to ride and care for horses.

It was AWESOME. I discovered I love riding horses, and I took to it pretty quickly. I'm sure some people do it all the time and take it for granted, but for me it was an eye-opening experience to be so close to such a powerful, impressive animal, and to experience even a fraction of the connection they are capable of having with humans.

I mean, I didn't have the same connection that Daniel did,
but it was still pretty cool.

Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to go horseback riding much since, but now that I think about it, it could be a fun family outing this summer. My son loves riding ponies at the fair, and we even rode a camel at the zoo. I think everyone might get a kick out of an extended horsey trip.

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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 at http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

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