Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!


I don't have anything else to say. I just needed to post something today to officially break my record for most posts in one year. This is number 72, breaking 2015's previous record of 71!

Happy New Year everyone! All the best I you and yours in 2018!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Any Mummers 'llowed In?


The knock came again, fierce and aggressive.

"Who's that?" asked the old woman, rocking slowly by the fire. The lights were dimmed, while the tiny bulbs on the Christmas tree blinked in-and-out, reflecting against tin ornaments and throwing dancing, prismatic rainbows against the wall.

The boy peaked through the tattered curtains of the picture window and his eyes grew wide. "It's mummers, granny."

Out on the snowy lawn, a large group of masked individuals shuffled and stamped, demanding to be let in. With hoods and weird hats, dressed in mismatched, garish clothes, they were unidentifiable. Most carried sticks and clubs, and they showed no intention of leaving until they received an invitation inside.

They pounded on the door again.

"Any mummers 'llowed in?"


Seriously: When a gang of masked, unidentifiable hooligans show up at your house at night in the dead of winter, demanding booze and wielding strange sticks with nails sticking out of them, do you open the door?

In Newfoundland you do.

Mummering is a strange Christmas tradition practiced in Newfoundland, Canada (and remote areas of Ireland) where people show up at your home wearing masks and acting weird and demand to be let in. I am seriously not making this up.

"Traditional" (and I use that term only in the loosest sense of the word) mummering (also called mumming) involves a group of friends and relatives dressing up and visiting local homes during the Christmas season to perform songs, dance and jokes in exchange for food and drink. The mummers dress in outlandish outfits made from whatever they can find - oversized clothes, blankets, jackets stuffed with cushions, pillowcases for masks, whatever. Wearing underwear outside the clothes is popular, as is dressing in drag. Part of the game and performance involves the house inhabitants having to guess the mummers' identities, and the mummers doing their best to remain incognito by altering their mannerisms and speaking with funny voices.

Note the improvised weapons in their hands. Dubbed "Ugly Sticks," these ungodly contraptions are banged to make music. And also to warn you of your impending demise.

The custom dates back to England and Ireland, and the exact details vary from community to community. The reason I put "traditional" in quotes above is because the act of mummering we know today is actually due to a folk revival stemming from the popularity of "The Mummers' Song" by Newfoundland musical group Simani (the video is above) released in 1982. It's a selective and idealized conceptualization of a custom that hadn't really been practiced on the island for a hundred years.

Why had the custom fallen out of practice? Well, probably because it was illegal, since a group of mummers murdered a man named Isaac Mercer in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland on December 28, 1860. The local constables never found those responsible, thanks to their convenient disguises. As a result, the act of wearing a mask in public was banned in Newfoundland, a law that technically still stands to this day (don't tell that to cosplayers at the local comic con).

Of course Newfoundland has a comic con. Hell, they even have comic cons in Libya, but it doesn't go over well.

My cynicism aside, it's a fun and silly holiday pastime that the Island embraces wholeheartedly. Mummers have become a symbol of Newfoundland Christmas, moreso even than Santa or Rudolph. There's songs, books, toys, parades, decorations, you name it. I'm not even sure exactly how much people do "actual" mummering, but the idea of it, and what it represents, is ubiquitous.

So next week, after all the presents are opened, the food is cleared away, and you're bored and looking for something to do, maybe pull on a mask, a big wool coat and some over-sized boots and go pound on your neighbour's door.* You might be in for a grand ol' time.

*Disclaimer: Don't actually do this. In most parts of the world this will get you shot.


It's not just me, right? This picture is super creepy, right?
Art by Rod Hand

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December Audiobook Reviews

Last month I raved about how I'd discovered audiobooks and couldn't believe they were missing from my life. I've been flying through books the last few weeks, "reading" more books in a month and a half than I did the full year prior, and my pace doesn't shown signs of stopping.

I figured since I was going through them anyway, I might as well take the time to jot down a few of my thoughts, both for my own benefit of remembering them down the line, plus as a suggestion (or warning) to anyone else who may want to give these a try.

Insane City, written and read by Dave Barry
This was without a doubt the weakest audiobook I've experienced so far. It's written well enough - Dave Barry is a bit too broad and general for my humour, but I appreciate the allure of it. It's got some great one-liners and plenty of wacky situations, but it read a bit too much like the script of a movie to me. Honestly, it seemed like Barry was trying really hard to write a book that could be adapted easily to a screenplay, like The Hangover. My thoughts on the matter? Just watch The Hangover, it's much better.

The worst part, though, was Barry's reading of the text. That's all it was - reading, like a high school student tonelessly presenting his book report in front of the class. Not everyone can be Euan Morton (see Serpent of Venice) doing all the character voices and accents like a one-man stage show, but at least put a little emphasis and inflection in your voice. The weird thing is, Barry narrates all of his own stuff. Is the non-fiction this dry and boring, too? It could have been really funny, with the right narrator, but Barry just really killed my interest in this one. 


The P.G. Wodehouse Collection, narrated by B.J. Harrison
I freely admit this type of early 20th century British humour may not be for everyone, but I absolutely love it. 

P.G. Wodehouse is a huge influence on some of my favourite writers, such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams (and really, any British humourist from the later 20th century), so what's not to love? The snappy dialogue, the quick wit, the wry British comedy of manners - Wodehouse perfected this comedy style that would go on to be adapted by so many, and B.J. Harrison performs it wonderfully. He uses the style of narration common to many English voice actors, adopting different voices, accents and speech patterns for every speaking role, so that it ends up sounding like a radio play performed by one actor.

This collection contains one novel (Right Ho, Jeeves) and about twenty short stories, so it's a bit on the long side, especially as the stories tend to get a bit repetitive, but the novel itself is a prime, sparkling example of Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster stories. It's hilarious, fast-paced and ridiculous, not to mention surprisingly crass. I've never heard an old British lady call her nephew an "ass" so many times in my life. True, it's tame by today's standards, but after the very proper and mannerly stories in the first half, all those "cuss words" thrown around in the novel were downright scandalous, and is a perfect example about how profanity, when used carefully and sparingly, is a potent comic weapon. I've never quite mastered it myself (Hell Comes to Hogtown has something like 400 f-bombs in it), so it's nice to observe a master.

Carrie, written by Stephen King and narrated by Sissy Spacek
After listening to mostly humour for the last few weeks, I wanted to try something different. Will a dramatic story be as good in audio as a joke-filled one? 

Carrie, at least, was excellent. I saw the original movie years ago but somehow I had never read the book. The movie was awesome, and the book, while different, was also exceptional. The ending was very different, and I agree with Stephen King that the ending of the film version is actually better.

That being said, the ending of the novel is still evocative. Not to get too spoilery - while the film ends with a bang, the novel drags on, and then spends considerable time detailing the aftermath of Carrie's rampage. If you ever wanted to see how a small town deals with the brutal deaths of hundreds of people at the hands of a misunderstood girl with godlike power, this is the book for you! It's depressing and heart-wrenching, and left me feeling icky. 

Sissy Spacek as the narrator was inspired. Not only is it a fun touch because she played the original Carrie in the film, but because she nails the reading, bringing the weight it needs in the dramatic parts as well as the cold clinical voice of the journalists and scientists investigating the incident. Normally I don't find "scary" books particular scary, nor do they really move me, but Spacek really helps to take you through all the ups and downs of the journey. It's a different kind of thriller. You know, very early on, how the story is going to end, but King and Spacek drag you along for the ride you know is going to end is heartbreak and bloodshed, and Spacek in particular really hammers home the dread and foreboding. It's wonderfully disquieting. 

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, read by Tony Roberts
Since the Christmas Season is upon us, I had to throw in one holiday-themed story, didn't I?

Some people curl up with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in December, a familiar tale to get them in the mood for the holidays. For me, it's Christopher Moore's "Heartwarming tale of Christmas terror." Many characters from Moore's other novels appear in Angel, sort of a "Holiday Special" treat for his fans, and I can't begin to cover all the ridiculousness in this short book. There's a washed up former B-movie queen who hears voices. There's a young boy who sees Santa Claus get murdered and then worries that means he's not getting a new PlayStation. There's a talking fruit bat. There's a heartbroken mad marine biologist who, in order to get over his divorce, glues electric diodes to the testicles of lab rats and himself. And of course there's the titular character, the absent-minded, idiot servant of Heaven who performs a lazy Christmas miracle and accidentally raises an entire graveyard full of people... as brain-eating zombies. 

This is peak Moore at his most insane, and the story is read well by Tony Roberts. Most of the voices seem to have southern accents, which is weird to me as the story is set in California, but maybe that's just me? Maybe I don't "get" American accents? This, apparently, is NOT the same Tony Roberts who starred in such films as Annie Hall, Play it Again, Sam and Serpico (who also does audiobook narration) but instead by the guy who narrates the Casca: The Eternal Mercenary series? Confusing.

Anyway. This book is great, the narration is pretty good, and if you share my sense of humour you will be simply... having... a wonderful Christmas time (insert Paul McCartney music here).

#

So, have you read/listened to anything cool this month?


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

All I Want for Christmas is Surgery (#IWSG December 2017)

As I'm writing this, we are patiently waiting to hear from the hospital as to when my wife will be going in for spinal surgery.

It's scary, but we're looking at it as a good thing. My wife has been in severe pain and off work for four months. Surgery will (fingers crossed) fix the pain and give her a chance to get back to a semblance of a normal life. As I've hinted at repeatedly, life has been pretty hectic and crazy in our household these last few months, and my wife has been miserable.

Wish us luck. We asked Santa for a successful surgery for Christmas.



December 2017 Question

It's something about things I would have done differently this year if I could go back, but honestly, while this year majorly sucked, I did the best I could with what I had. I would much rather re-visit last year's question.

Last year for the December IWSG, we discussed where we saw ourselves in five years. I laid out a pretty detailed plan of what I wanted to accomplish in the next 60 months. With 12 of those months now behind us, I thought I would revisit the list to see where I'm at.
  • Write 3-5 books
I finished a massive re-write of two old manuscripts this year, one of which was the revised edition of Ten Thousand Days. So while I haven't written a new book, I think I have made progress on this front. I also started three new books this year, but since I only made it to about 1/4 of the way through on all of them, I don't think they count. At least not yet.

  • Submit at least 3 books to agents/publishers.
Fingers crossed, but I hope to have the other book I rewrote this year (see above) out to a publisher before December 31. They're having open manuscript submissions until the the end of the year, so I said, what the hell? I doubt anything will come of it but at least it will work on my rejection pile. 
  • Self-publish 2-3 books
I released the revised edition of Ten Thousand Days and a new Werebear vs Landopus story, but I don't think either of these actually count. I will have to revise my goals, as I really intended this to be new, full-length novels. I'm also going to have to add a line for WvL stories, because I hope to keep doing them regularly, as well.
  • Write at least 2 short stories per year and submit them to anthologies/magazines
Success! I wrote and submitted exactly 2 new stories. I also had one I submitted last year accepted and published in the Strangely Funny anthology. Good times all around.


  • Collect at least 100 rejections.
I received 15 new rejections this year, which is a good start. If you add the 20 or so I received years ago when I first tried to get published I'm over a third of the way there. With two more stories and a book out for submissions going into the new year I'm sure to make a dent in this target in the next twelve months.


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/.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Just Discovered I Love Audiobooks

For the longest time I was hesitant to listen to audiobooks. I found nothing inherently wrong with them, they just didn't seem to be for me. For some reason my mind wandered whenever I listened, and unlike when reading and you miss something, with audiobooks it's especially hard to go back and re-read/listen to parts you missed. It just didn't seem worth the effort.

Those opinions were formed before I got a job with a ridiculously long commute, as well as a lot of data entry where my ears are free to do to other things. For the last few years I've been listening to a ton of podcasts, but lately I've been finding myself bored with that too. Along with the guilt that I don't do nearly as much reading as I should, I decided to give audiobooks another whirl, and I'm so glad I did. In just two weeks I've discovered a LOVE for audiobooks I never imagined, and I suddenly feel so much more productive now, being able to chip away at my TBR pile while simultaneously getting other tasks done. It's amazing.

In those two weeks I've "read" three books I've meant to get to for awhile, and I've discovered that audiobooks improve books in (at least) three awesome ways.

1. It makes bad books bearable.



The first book I checked out was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Now, this book was hugely popular a few years ago and is about to become a major Steven Spielberg movie, but in all honesty I didn't think it was very good. The 80s video-game nostalgia seemed perfectly tailored for me, but the flat characters, dumb stakes and over-reliance on said nostalgia were just grating. Not to mention it was riddled with plot inconsistencies that I would have been crucified for had I written them.

If had I been actually reading it I doubt I would have made it through. But the story was saved by the charming and likable narration by Wil Wheaton. While the weakest of the three narrators I listened to, Wheaton still has an engaging voice and a spirited narration, so it was nice to listen to him drone on in my ears for a few days.

2. It lets you see an old book in a new light.



Book number two was Slaughterhouse Five. I had read it many years ago, but despite it's place as a classic it was among my least favourite of Vonnegut's books. I don't know if it was because I read it in a rush of other Vonnegut books so it didn't particularly stand out for some reason, or maybe I just didn't get it. But that changed after I listened to Ethan Hawke's rendition.

Now, I don't know if Hawke is actually the best choice for Slaughterhouse Five (there's another version read by James Franco that I think might work even better). He's a bit too smooth and suave, but boy does he bring it to life. He instills it with so much pathos and realness, it really hits you in the gut and plays up the darkness while still maintaining that mischievous satire that I love. I have really reconsidered my opinion on Slaughterhouse Five thanks to the audiobook, jumping it way up there in my Vonnegut canon.

3. It can make a good book absolutely exceptional.



The third book was The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. I'm pretty open that Moore is a heavy influence of mine (which I think is probably most obvious in Hell Comes to Hogtown), so I generally enjoy his books anyway. But Euan Morton's reading of Serpent of Venice is astounding. It's the first time I've understood what it means when it says a narrator "performs" a book.

For those who don't know him, Morton is a stage actor and singer who played Boy George in Taboo in both London and on Broadway, currently performs as King George in Hamilton on Broadway, and has credits in countless other shows on both sides of the Atlantic (random side fact: his son plays the lead in the TV show Young Sheldon). Morton brings his considerable skills to Serpent of Venice, turning it into basically a 10-hour-long one-man show where he performs all the characters beautifully with different voices, and captures Moore's humour with perfect British wit. He's like a one-man Monty Python, it's amazing.

I also just discovered that Morton also did the narration for two other Christopher Moore books, Fool and Sacre Bleu, so I am pumped to check those out.

Long story short, I'm really digging audiobooks and I can't believe it took me this long to jump on board. Since I wrote this up last week I've also listened to a Dave Barry book and I'm half-way through a PG Wodehouse collection (For reference, the Dave Barry book wasn't very good but it still had a few laughs in it). I haven't been this prolific in my "reading" in years. I think I've listened to more books in the last month than I read in the entire year prior. I'm looking forward to making a nice dent in my TBR pile in 2018.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author D de Carvalho

Looking for the hottest new steamy romance writer? Look no further, because I've got your hook-up!

In the latest installment of my writer interview series, I sit down with D de Carvalho, an up-coming erotica writer with a penchant for BDSM and all things pink. It's a fun little conversation and I think you should do yourself a favour and check out the interview, and the links, below.

THE WRITER!

A native of far-flung locations, and a grade-A student of life, Carvalho developed his passion for fine foods and erotic encounters at a young age. He is proud to be a practicing member of the BDSM community, as well as a self-confessed and widely acknowledged grumpy old man.

In the Hot Pink series, D. de Carvalho serves up a smorgasbord of hot ‘n spicy erotic tales with no holds barred. Whether you savor sweet romance or crave the delicious tang of dark desire, Carvalho caters with tales to tempt every taste. Each sexy story arrives with a side order of humor, sprinkled with a touch of suspense, paranormal or mystery.

THE INTERVIEW!

What motivated you to become an indie author?
My friend and newly-published fellow author, Francisco Cordoba is solely responsible.
About a year ago, we were chatting about his Horsemen of Goleg√£ series, and I was helping him sex up some of his erotic scenes. I tried to put in a BDSM scene, which he felt was totally inappropriate for his characters. I pushed the issue. It’s possible I called him a pantywaist. Some general argument and insults followed. By the time the dust settled, he’d challenged me to “write your own damn porn and stop messing with quality.” Of course, I couldn’t ignore a challenge like that.

The funny part to that story is that he’s been writing for years and had already put in twelve months on The Horsemen of Goleg√£ when he challenged me. And I still published twelve months before he did.

In your face, Cordoba!

I interviewed Francisco a few months ago. It took him awhile, but he's tearing it up over at Amazon now!

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I start with whatever inspiration favours me with. But once I have an idea, I write it down and build from there. Us grumpy old men don’t do well without some sort of road map to follow. We end up wandering down the wrong road without our mug of Ovaltine and generally forget where we’re going or where we came from.

I think I'm on the cusp of joining you in the Grump Old Men club. Speaking of which, what are your views on social media for marketing, and which of them have worked best for you?
Aargh!!!! I’m too old for this shit. I use Facebook and Twitter mostly, or they abuse me. I stumble around tweeting and bleating and flinging stuff into the ether. Does it work? I don’t know yet.

Fair enough. I think Twitter is used as a torture in some small European countries. I suspect I know the answer to my next question: Would you or do you use a PR agency?
So far I haven’t. Would I? Ask me again in a year or so.

Last question: How do you relax?
I eat fine food and give pleasure to a beautiful woman.

Me too! Though usually I prefer to do them in the opposite order. At my age rich food does a number on the tummy, you know what I mean? 

Thanks for sitting down with me today!


THE LINKS!


BUY HOT PINK HEELS!

BUY HOT PINK DRAGON!
AMAZON US 

Monday, November 13, 2017

REMAKES Blog Fest: The Music

Hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and Heather M. Gardner.

Remakes – most of them suck. Now and then, one comes along that is as good as, if not better, than the original. And after all of the bad ones we’ve endured, we want to know about some good ones.
On November 13, 2017, blog about your favorite remake: movie (or television show into movie and vice versa), song, or book – or all three! Post a YouTube video and links where we can find these treasures. Tell us why THIS remake doesn’t suck!

Full list of pariticipating blogs at the bottom of this post.

THE MUSIC!

I love covers. Absolutely adore them. So much that I will often listen to musical genres I don't even usually like if someone has a new and interesting take on an old tune. I am unabashedly a fan of "Grey's Anatomy" covers of old pop songs. The show has made an industry out of indy-acoustic remixes of 80s pop hits, and I have Spotify playlists full of them. I also have an unusual number of bluegrass songs on my iPod, but all of them are covers of heavy metal or mid-2000s emo punk bands.

The best for me is when the artist takes a drastically different spin on a classic riff, like turning a slow ballad into thrash metal or remaking a hardcore hip hop song into something romantic. As with any kind of remake, it only works when you have something new to say. Just redoing the same thing the same way it was done before is boring. It's why covers of holiday classics are usually terrible - it's just a soulless rendition of the same thing we've heard a thousand times before.

Baby It's Cold Outside
Cover by CeeLo Green & Christina Aguilera
"Baby It's Cold Outside" is already an awful song for obvious reasons, but the recent Christina Aguilera/CeeLo Green cover made me want to claw my eyes out. It's just two very talented singers, who are obviously not even recording in the same room, trying to out-sing each other. There's no fun, no new take, nothing interesting about it. I supposed you could argue that about a lot of Holiday music, but then most holiday songs are covers, so I wonder why that works out, huh?

Anyway, on to the good stuff...

Love Will Tear Us Apart
Originally by Joy Division, covered by Nouvelle Vague
Quick story: I first heard Nouvelle Vague at a restaurant when I was out to dinner with my wife and in-laws. I loved the music they were playing so much that I asked the waiter what they were playing and immediately went out and bought the CD. I never do that, either talk to people or buy CDs, so that tells you how much I love this band.

Nouvelle Vague is french for "new wave," and it the name of a French group that almost exclusively covers "new wave" music from the 70s and 80s (like Joy Division, Depeche Mode, & New Order) with bossa nova beat (which itself is Portuguese for "new wave"), Besides being an awesome play on words, the musical arrangements are outstanding, and provides a wonderful background soundtrack to lounging around at a classy cocktail party. I always feel so continental when I listen to this stuff.

I'm Afraid of Americans
Originally by David Bowie, covered by O.R.K.
This is one of my favourite David Bowie songs, probably because it was heavily influenced by Trent Reznor during Bowie's dalliance with industrial music in the 1990s. My two favourite artists, together at last? What could be better?

Well, after the tragic events of November 8, 2016, I figured a cover of this song HAD to happen, and sure enough it only took about 6 months to come to light. While I prefer the actual musical arrangement in Bowie's original and Nine Inch Nail's remix, O.R.K.'s version makes the single most important musical change of this decade by swapping all the references to generic American "Johnny" with "Donny" in the lyrics instead.

Donny wants a plane
Donny wants to suck on a Coke
Donny wants a woman
Donny wants to think of a joke
Donny's in America
Donny's in America
Donny looks up at the stars
Donny combs his hair
Donny wants pussy in cars
Donny's in America

I'm still waiting to see if A Perfect Circle come out with an ever better cover when their inevitable new album drops. Their eMOTIVe album of anti-war cover songs, released during the height of W's presidency, was outstanding.

While I'm on the topic, I might as well throw this one out there:

Imagine
Originally by John Lennon, covered by A Perfect Circle
(Warning: Some graphic content and disturbing images)

Some folks might be a bit miffed on such a skewed take on a classic, hopeful song, but I think the material was open for it. Not to mention I'm a sucker for anything Maynard James Keenan does.

Imagine has always been a hopeful, positive song, asking us to picture the amazing things that people could do in a perfect world. A Perfect Circle twists this meaning, talking about the wonderful things people are capable of but reminding us that they're not doing it. The dissonant key and the minor chords in this just hit you right in the heart (even without the disturbing video above). It's a melancholy, bittersweet take on that hopeful message. It's ironic and almost mocking, as if to say, "Hey wouldn't it be great if we could get along? Too bad we never will."

Ice Ice Baby
Original by Vanilla Ice, cover by Richard Cheese
Okay, just so we don't go out on a total bummer, please enjoy the smooth stylings of Richard Cheese.

Now, to be fair, Richard Cheese is a lot like Nouvelle Vague. It's all jazzy lounge music, though instead of covering one particular style of music, he'll do anything and everything - hip hop, metal, 80s pop, TV theme songs, anything that's fun. Here's the thing: Richard Cheese is, technically speaking, a novelty act, but he's a great singer and always surrounds himself with talented musicians and awesome arrangements, so even though he's doing it tongue-in-cheek, the songs are amazing.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love it when people don't take themselves or their art too seriously, so someone who names himself after smegma and make nu-metal songs palpable is okay in my book.

Check out some of the other great blogs participating today:




Friday, November 10, 2017

The History of "In Flanders Fields"

"In Flanders Fields" is a famous poem lamenting soldiers lost in World War I, but has since come to be associated with Remembrance Day (also known as Armistice Day or Veterans Day), and is commonly read at services across Canada on November 11. It was written by Major John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander during the Great War, and Canadians have latched onto it hard. I don't think it's wildly known in the US, but in Canada it's a huge, cultural touchstone that school children are forced to memorize somewhere between the National Anthem and the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada. For those who are not familiar, it goes a little something like this:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

According to legend, on May 2nd of 1915, young artillery officer named Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed in Ypres, Belgium. The chaplin had been called away to preside over what was surely an endless string of funerals, so Major McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Lt. Helmer. After the service, looking out over the lines of crosses and the poppies blowing between them, a grief-struck McCrae was moved to pen the original draft of the poem. Dissatisfied with his work, he crumpled it up and tossed it aside, but another soldier in his unit found it and, moved by the doctor's stunning words, urged him to have it published.

While it is true that Lt. Helmer died on May 2nd and Major McCrae conducted his funeral, the more likely version of the story is that it actually took the doctor months to write the poem, whenever he had free time between tending to horribly injured soldiers. Not quite as romantic, but far more visceral.

Want to hear something even less romantic? McCrae originally submitted the Poem to The Spectator, a conservative London-based magazine of politics, culture and current affairs. In 1915 it had already been around for nearly 100 years, and is actually still in publication today. Like most first-time writers, McCrae's work was rejected. I guess the editor had reached his poppy quota for the quarter.

After being turned away by one of the oldest and most prestigious publications in London, guess where McCrae turned next?

Car AND General insurance? Sign me up!

Punch Magazine was a weekly periodical of humour and satire, and they practically invented the political "cartoon" comic in the 1840s.

I don't understand any of this.

For a modern comparison, I wanted to say it was like getting rejected from the New Yorker and submitting to Mad Magazine instead, except the The Spectator is probably more like far-right rag The New York Observer, which holds the distinction of being one of the only newspapers that endorsed Trump during the 2016 US election. Coincidentally, the Observer is owned by Trump's son-in-law.

So yeah, it was like McCrae got rejected from The New York Observer then submitted his poem to Mad Magazine. Either way, it's still weird.

But at least the classic poem got a classy presentation worthy of its future status as a cultural milestone and a stirring reminder of the horrors of war, right?

Like so.

The famous image above was actually a print created by the Heliotype Company in Ottawa in 1918, to commemorate the death of the poet. Here is the original page where "In Flanders Fields" appeared, in the December 8, 1915 issue of Punch Magazine:

What, it doesn't jump out at you?

In case you can't see it - apparently people's eyesight was way better back in the early 1900s - the poem appears in the lower right hand column, sandwiched between a fake catalogue of Christmas toys (including "The Frozen Pipe Doll's House" with real leaking pipes and "The Influenza Doll" that coughs when you squeeze it), and this joke:
"Will this war bring us to Kidderminster?"
English Churchman
Well, there are worse places than Kidderminster.
I don't have a flipping clue where Kidderminster is (nor do I quite get the joke), but apparently Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin grew up there. That's the kind of biting satire that was common in Punch Magazine. So what the hell was an introspective poem by a morose soldier doing in there? McCrae wasn't even credited in the original printing.

Despite its humble beginnings, "In Flanders Fields" caught on and was quickly adopted by the English Commonwealth as a stirring tribute. The significance of poppies as a symbol of remembrance links directly to this poem. Even a hundred years later, the poem and the red poppies are a solemn reminder that Canadians in particular hold close to their hearts - literally, as many wear the small flower over their left breast as a symbol to the lives lost in war.

As for the poet, Major McCrae became world-renowned for his words, though continued to serve on the front. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and continued his work as a field doctor. John McCrae worked at numerous hospitals through the war, always pushing himself to help as many people as possible, ignoring his own health and well-being. He pushed through his exhaustion and illness and eventually succumbed to pneumonia on January 28, 1918, heralded as both a war hero and a brilliant poet.


Friday, November 3, 2017

BOOK RELEASE: Mistakes of the Past by Patricia Josephine

Patricia Josesphine (also known as Patricia Lynne) is back! The always fabulous Patricia, the organizer of Trick or Treat books earlier this week, is here to discuss her new book Mistakes of the Past, which also dropped this week! She's a busy lady. Anyone who's read any of Patricia's many previous books knows she's a fabulously talented wordsmith, so do yourself a favour and check out Mistakes of the Past. She's the writer about whom my wife once famously remarked: "You should read this, you can learn something. She's a much better writer than you."


THE BOOK!
Luc seeks atonement for the actions that banished him from his home. Living as a priest in a small town, he strives to show how much he’s changed with the hope that one day he can return to his family.

Haunted by the guilt that destroyed her family, Rose has shut her heart off. She vows to never let anyone near again lest she hurt them. When she meets Luc, she can’t deny the draw she feels to him.

But the past is not easily forgotten. When Luc’s past finds him, Rose is caught in the middle. Forced to face who he used to be, Luc must decide if he’s willing to give up his chance at redemption to save Rose. But doing so means he won’t be able to hide who he is. Will Rose be able to reconcile the man she knows with the devil he used to be? Or are the mistakes of the past too damning?

GUEST POST!
Patricia's real life inspirations in Mistakes of the Past:

1)Rose’s cleft lip
My nephew was born with a cleft lip and palate. By the time he was five, he had five different surgeries. He still has more to go, but is getting a break. When I created Rose I wanted her to be a cleft lip baby. There really isn’t any reason and it has no impact on the plot. It’s just one of those things that affected my life, and I know it affects others, so it’s nice to see a character with something I can relate to.

2)Josh and his grandma
There is a scene where Luc is comforting a young man at the hospital about his grandma. The thing is, she is still alive in this scene. Still, Josh asks Luc why it hurts already when she’s not gone yet.

I have one grandma left. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and every illness saps her severely. She’s in her 80s. That’s where the scene came from. I’m aware that I have less time than more with my grandma. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye and I doubt I’ll ever be ready. This scene is coming to term with that fact.

3)Rose’s memory of her teacher at the funeral
My main memory of kindergarten is getting in trouble with the teacher. My bestie of 30+ odd years and I met in kindergarten. We sat next to each other, and instead of listening to the teacher, we were talking. That got us in trouble. For the longest time, I was not endeared to that teacher.

4)The Gerrish farm and Rose’s landlord
Both those I drew from my own landlord. His last name is Gerrish, and I needed a one-time name and that popped in my head. When Rose gripes about her landlord not fixing her toilet and having to reach in to flush. That actually happened with my toilet. Although, my landlord fixed it really fast.

And as a bonus, here is one inspiration that isn’t based on real life.

Rose’s hair loops in chapter five. Anyone watch Avatar: The Last Airbender? Katara has hair loopies and I recall her brother poking fun about them. That’s the picture I had in my head when imagining Rose.


BUY THE BOOK!
B&N | KOBO | iTUNES

ABOUT THE AUTHOR!
Patricia Josephine never set out to become a writer. In fact, she never considered it an option during high school and college. She was all about art. On a whim, she wrote down a story bouncing in her head. That was the start of it and she hasn't regretted a moment. She writes young adult under the name Patricia Lynne.

Patricia lives with her husband in Michigan, hopes one day to have what will resemble a small petting zoo, has a fondness for dying her hair the colors of the rainbow, and an obsession with Doctor Who.

THE LINKS!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I Can't Believe I Pulled It Off (#IWSG November 2017)

I did it!

It took over two years, but I finally did it!

I made it to the top 100 of the Insecure Writers Support Group LinkyTools list!

Read it and weep, baby. 99. Just like The Great One.

I attribute this victory to ingenuity, creativity, pacts made with Satan brushing and against Charlie Sheen once. And never missing more than one monthly post in a row.

Seriously though, I do have a couple of actual small writing victories this month. Regular life is still sucking the big one, but I managed to surpass my writing goals in the last 30 days. I'm not entirely sure how I did it, but I somehow completed and submitted not one but TWO short stories to anthologies in October, which is a staggering feat for me. (I also submitted another old story for like the fifteenth time but it's already been rejected fourteen times so that's not so exciting.)


In September I didn't write a single word, so completing two separate 5000+ words stories in only 30 days is mind-boggling. For some, that's like a day's work, but for me it has been a slog. I had to skip a lot of my lunch-time exercise breaks, and had to get up at 5:30am on weekends, but I managed to pull it off. These stories better not suck, because I'm sure finishing them has taken a toll on my health.

Wish me luck.

#

Yesterday was Halloween, and I took part in Patricia Lynne's Trick or Treat blog hop to give away free books. If you're reading this on November 1, my contributions are still available for free (Samhain technically lasts until Sunday November 1), so check them out below:

FREE BOOKS!

 

A serious, grimly dark short story of hilarious misery.

SUGGESTED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES: Contains coarse language, violence, alleged dwarf ejaculate and candid descriptions of the genitalia of various fantasy races.

The Werebear vs Landopus series is for folks who love dark fantasy with a goofy, at times obscene sense of humour. It reads a lot like playing Dungeons & Dragons with your friends when you're all punch drunk/feeling silly, and you can't help but laugh when your half-elf wizard is bitten in half by a vampiric hippopotamus. 

Part Three should be coming out soon, so now is the time to catch up!




They say love hurts and time heals all wounds. 

Sometimes the reverse is true. 

Ten Thousand Days is a fairy tale set in the modern day, a fantastic journey of desperate love and horror with a twisted sense of humour. Inspired by Neil Gaiman with a touch of Terry Pratchett, and based on the ancient tales of Sleeping Beauty and Orpheus & Eurydice. It's a story of exactly how far a young man will go for love...

Ten Thousand Days is my first published novel and it's been around a couple of years, however earlier this year I made a MAJOR revision to it earlier this year, nearly doubling it in length and (in my opinion) making it substantially better. If you still haven't checked it out, now's the time! It's available for free on Smashwords until November 1.

!!GET TEN THOUSAND DAYS ON SMASHWORDS!!

#

NOVEMBER QUESTI... nevermind.


I've never participated in NaNo and there's no way in hell I'm starting this year, but good luck to all of you who are! I look forward to hearing about your harrowing tales. ☺☺☺

#



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/.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Trick or Treat for FREE BOOKS! (Happy Halloween!)


It's time! Pumpkins are being smashed on lawns by teenagers with hockey sticks, and children are running through traffic! Department stores are putting up their Christmas decorations, and dentists are rubbing their hands greedily thinking about all the expensive cavities they're about to fill. And do you know the best part? Authors are giving out FREE BOOKS like candy!



Big thanks once again to the lovely PATRICIA LYNNE and her amazing hair for organizing Trick or Trick reads again this year. Be sure to check out ALL the authors on the list below to grab whatever books or stories they're passing out today. I've found some real gems this was in years past, so it's well worth your time to stop by them all to see what they're offering. And stop by Patricia's site to thank her for setting this up!

It's Halloween; everyone's entitled to one good scare.

Here's is the list of authors participating today:



Now check out what I'm giving away today!

 

A serious, grimly dark short story of hilarious misery.

SUGGESTED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES: Contains coarse language, violence, alleged dwarf ejaculate and candid descriptions of the genitalia of various fantasy races.

The Werebear vs Landopus series is for folks who love dark fantasy with a goofy, at times obscene sense of humour. It reads a lot like playing Dungeons & Dragons with your friends when you're all punch drunk/feeling silly, and you can't help but laugh when your half-elf wizard is bitten in half by a vampiric hippopotamus. 

Part Three should be coming out soon, so now is the time to catch up!




They say love hurts and time heals all wounds. 

Sometimes the reverse is true. 

Ten Thousand Days is a fairy tale set in the modern day, a fantastic journey of desperate love and horror with a twisted sense of humour. Inspired by Neil Gaiman with a touch of Terry Pratchett, and based on the ancient tales of Sleeping Beauty and Orpheus & Eurydice. It's a story of exactly how far a young man will go for love...

Ten Thousand Days is my first published novel and it's been around a couple of years, however earlier this year I made a MAJOR revision to it earlier this year, nearly doubling it in length and (in my opinion) making it substantially better. If you still haven't checked it out, now's the time! It's available for free on Smashwords until November 1.

!!GET TEN THOUSAND DAYS ON SMASHWORDS!!

I want you to tell me a story: A man and a woman in a loft a year ago. I'm sure you'll remember. You killed them, on Halloween...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author Amir Lane

This week in my on-going series of author interviews I spend a few minutes with Amir Lane, author of the Morrighan House Witches series. Lane is all over the place right now, having released two books already this year, and they also have a story in the upcoming Dawn of Hope Anthology from Dragon Realm Press, which will be released next month. Without further ado, here's my interview with Amir!

THE INTERVIEW!

When did you decide to become a writer?

Seventh grade. I actually remember the exact moment, too.

This was back when Quizilla was a thing. I used to do all those personality quizzes where they tell you which character or colour or random picture they found online you are. Man, I loved those. I used to do them every chance I got. And then, because that's what I was into back then, I discovered Naruto fanfiction. Before this, writers were, I don't know, on some kind of pedestal. Normal People couldn't be writers.

(Don't laugh, I was 11.)

I said nothing. I wrote Star Wars and pro-wrestling fan fiction.

All of a sudden, here was someone who was maybe only a few years older than I was who had written this amazing series. It was a total paradigm shift. All of a sudden, writing was something that I could reasonably do if I wanted. So I started writing fanfic myself. And of course it was awful, but it was exactly what I needed to get started.

We all need to start somewhere. How about now? Do you write full-time or part-time?

I'm strictly part-time. As much as I'd love to write full-time, I think this is best for me right now because it's still something I look forward to. If I was writing full-time, I think it would feel too much like a job instead of something I do just because I like it. It'd be too stressful.

It's not stressful? I envy you. How often do you write, and do you have a special time during the day to write?

I try to write every day when I get home. I like to get at least a scene out a day but life happens. So I find that if I do it as early as possible, it's more likely to get done.  I always keep at least notebook on me, because half my stuff is on paper and the rest is digital, so I can always write a few lines whenever I can grab a few minutes.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

Yeah, what I do is I give myself a word count for my draft and a time period, and I stick it in a calendar that automatically tells me how many words per day I need. The cool thing about it is that I can set it so that, you know, I don't always have as much time on weekends so make my word count higher during the week. I try to meet whatever that assigns me and if I can't, it gets redistributed. I usually do about eight hundred a day. If I'm editing, though, I try for two chapters a day. I'm usually pretty good for meeting it.

You mention fan-fiction, which often has a collaborative aspect. Have you written works in collaboration with other writers?

I tried it a few times when I was just starting out. I wanted to write dual-POV books and I thought it would work best with one person writing one, one person writing another. It also took some of the pressure of writing every single chapter myself, and gave me someone to bounce ideas off of. The problem I consistently found, though, was that one person almost always lost interest before the other so they all fell through. I still love collaborating and I do back-and-forths as writing exercises. There is one thing that I've been planning to write with my partner but with everything on our plates right now, it might be a while before we actually get to it.

How much research do you do, and what kind of research?
It really depends on the book. I didn't do a huge amount for Shadow Maker, mostly because I didn't have to. The thing that needed the most research was the mental illness aspect that plays kind of behind the scenes with two of my main characters. I did do a lot of reading on that, but I was also able to pull a lot from my own experiences with some of the issues that come up.

The other books that I'm working on, though, are definitely going to involve a lot more research. The third book of my Morrigan House Witches series, Panthera Onca, is going to be partially set in Brazil. So that's going to be a lot of hitting the library with a notebook and reading until my eyes bleed. Which, you know, I'm actually looking forward to. And The Duality Series is a historical so I'm spending a lot of time getting a feel for what was going on, what my characters would have had access to, the kind of weapons they would use. Even things like, horses. I've got a ton of PDFs on my tablet that I'm marking up and taking notes in.

I'm really big on magic realism so it's really important to me to have as much accuracy and as much realism as possible, up until the point where you just have to go, 'Screw it, it's magic.' I come from an engineering background and an engineering family, so I still have this mindset of, you can have an entire dimension of a wall be negligible but only if it makes sense. And this comes up a lot in Aeqrab. I bring in a lot mythological species, and making them work in a modern world takes a lot of thinking. I have this Mesopotamian demon, it's, Could something bipedal have horns like these? If they have no pupil, how would they be able to see? And it's a lot of questions you can't find on Wikipedia.

Answering all of these questions has actually been so much fun for me. My younger brother did a year in biomedical science and he's finishing off a physics degree, and he is without a doubt one of the most intelligent people I have ever met (don't tell him I said that). He is so good at understanding the world and how it works to the point that he's the biggest idiot I've ever met, but he's always the smartest person in the room. And this works out perfectly because I can hand him these questions or hand him a list of features I want my lilin to have and he'll come back with, 'Okay so in this species, but also, maybe you could try.' And I have enough of a science background that we can go back and forth about, 'Okay but what if instead' or 'Okay but this species.' Meanwhile my parents are looking at us like, 'What the hell are they talking about, what's a...?' It's great. I love it.

THE AUTHOR!

Amir Lane is a genderfluid supernatural and urban fantasy writer from Sudbury, Ontario. Engineer by trade, they spend most of their writing time in a small home office on the cargo pants of desks, or in front of the TV watching every cop procedural or cooking competition on Netflix. They live in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence, and they strive to bring that world to paper. Their short story, Scrap Metal and Circuitry, was published by Indestructible magazine in April 2016.

When not trying to figure out what kind of day job an incubus would have or what a Necromancer would go to school for, Amir enjoys visiting the nearest Dairy Queen, getting killed in video games, absorbing the contents of comic books, and freaking out over how fluffy the neighbour’s dog is.

THE BOOK!

Physics major Dieter Lindemann is perfectly content living in a world where the Shadows he sees and hears are nothing but hallucinations. But when one attacks him, he’s forced to confront the fact that the Shadows are not only real, but dangerous.

Though Necromancer Alistair Cudmore offers to help him, Dieter quickly realizes that what he and Alistair want are two very different things, and it’s difference that could cost him his life. Controlling and possessive, Alistair pushes him further and further into blood magic. An incident at a club forces him into Necromancy, and he’s dragged down into a world he never wanted any part in. As the spirits and Alistair grow more and more violent, Dieter must break away from his mentor and learn to control the Shadows on his own before they destroy him. Only, Alistair isn’t about to let him go without a fight.



THE LINKS!



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