Wednesday, October 18, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author Amir Lane


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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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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trick or Treat for Books (2017 Edition)


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It's that time again! The weather is changing, the grocery store aisles are crammed with boxes of individually-packaged candy, and kids are spending more time at school discussing their Halloween costumes than their math lessons.

That last one doesn't matter because the education system is gone to crap, anyway.

What the hell kind of sorcery is this?

In what has become a yearly tradition, I will once again be taking part in Patricia Lynne's Trick or Treat Book Blog Hop. You can check out the details on her blog, but the long and the short of it is, authors will be giving away free books on or about October 31, just like candy! 



The list of participants who have signed up so far is below. Fellow writers, please feel free to add your name!



Make sure to come back on Halloween to grab your free books, from myself as well as the other authors on the list!

In a weird bit of serendipitous symmetry, my announcement of joining this blog hop for the first time back in 2015 was my 100th blog post. Today, two years later, is my 200th blog post. It's almost like I regularly once per week, except I absolutely don't (I go through periods where I post like crazy, and then weeks/months with nothing). Still, 200 posts is nothing to sneeze at, so yeah, me!

Any excuse to use this GIF.




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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I'll Get Back to the Keyboard Eventually (#IWSG October 2017)


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Holy shit! I've moved up to 102 on the IWSG list! I've nearly cracked the top 100! That's not really an accomplishment worth noting, but I've got to take what I can get. I'm also well over 6000 followers on Twitter! People like me, right?

I need to celebrate whatever I can. It's not like I got any writing done.

I didn't even do that much.

It's been a rough (rough) year for my family, and writing has fallen very far down the list of my priorities. I get up at 5:00 and rarely got to bed before midnight, and in all of that time I don't have many minutes to myself, let alone take the time to write. I've been forced to start driving to work every day, which is not preferred because as long-time readers know, my bus ride is usually my writing time. Not to mention parking where I work costs a fortune.

I watched about ten minutes of the new Marc Maron comedy special on Netflix. What I saw was pretty funny.

It sucks but it's life, and sometimes you have to deal with these things. There have been small improvements, so hopefully I'll get back to a regular schedule soon.



Oh, I've signed up for Patricia Lynne's "Trick-or-Treat Blog Hop" once again to give away free stories for Halloween. Only a few people have signed up so far, but enrollment tends to increase closer to the big day. Interested writers can sign up below:



For those not in the know, participating authors give away free books and stories on October 31 instead of teeth-destroying candy. Usually the stories are seasonally-themed, with ghost/supernatural/horror-type atmosphere, but I believe this year that particular requirement has been relaxed and everyone is free to give away anything they want. It's like getting Easter Eggs and Candy Canes for Halloween!

At the rate I'm going I probably won't have the new story I'd planned to give away finished in time, but I'm sure I'll find something appropriate to throw in the hat.

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October Question 
Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

All the f***ing time.

Not as blatantly as some writers, though.

If you see a date in one of my books or stories, chances are it's a date important to my life somehow. I've also copied entire conversations I've had almost verbatim and used them in my writing. Even some that disgust reviewers who can't believe anyone would actually say such things.

Of course, in all cases I remove any context and change the details a little to remove any chance of guilt or shame, but I have had people call me out on it. Fortunately it's only people who already know me really well, and since there aren't many of those it's not picked up on very often. :-)


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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Thursday, September 14, 2017

INTERVIEW with Writer Vince Rockston


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I continue my series of interviews with both established and up-and-coming writers. My guest today has led a full and fascinating life, and we all look forward to the arrival of his first novel. In the meantime let's take the opportunity to get to know Vince Rockston and his writing journey a little better.

THE WRITER!

Vince enjoys the beautiful countryside around the little Swiss village where he lives, retired, with his Finnish wife, sharing a house with one son, his Brazilian wife and their Chihuahua. When he has a chance, he loves to go hiking in the mountains. He blogs as Greyowl (bilingual) and his historical fiction book is developing at www.aquilaelba.info. AquilaElba is also on Facebook.

In his spare time Vince explores the surrounding woods and pastures on the e-bike he was given when he retired, plays online Chess, Sudoku or Words with Friends and is heavily involved with supporting refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Vince grew up in the protected environment of the little island of Jersey (Channel Islands, GB). Moving to London to study physics at the prestigious Imperial College proved quite a shock to his system; not only were the distances huge, but everything cost so much and, in addition to no end of interesting and educational opportunities, there were also many  distractions and temptations. Later, he had the chance to participate in a research group at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, which allowed him to use leading-edge technology and the most powerful computers of the time. But his priorities changed when he met a sweet Finnish au pair girl and they decided to get married and start a family.

In order to earn a living, Vince started as a computer technician but soon advanced through a series of promotions to become a consultant for networking solutions. After 25 years in IT, a forced career change introduced him to the field of technical editing for a company developing encryption solutions. This turned out to match his character and skills very well, although it’s a long way from writing fiction.

Raising a family of three children, extended by a lively foster daughter and a dog; heavy involvement in a small evangelical church; and multiple business trips around the world – these filled most of Vince’s free time while he was working. Now that his children have flown the nest – though not gone very far – he is thrilled to be able to accompany his two grandchildren one afternoon per week and watch them develop, even though he gets exhausted.

The relative freedom of retirement has allowed Vince to take winter breaks with his wife to warmer climes, recently to Madeira and Tenerife. They enjoy the beautiful scenery, exotic plants and challenging hikes. The sparse historical information available about the indigenous people of the Canary Isles – Guanches – may inspire Vince to work on another historical novel. Who knows?

Aquila rock on Elba Island in Italy, named for its distinct eagle-shape, is one of the inspirations for Vince's novel. Find out more about the story here.

THE INTERVIEW!

I know you've been working on your books for a few years now; what do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
Once I have a story in my head, putting it down on (electronic) paper isn’t hard. Sticking at it when I myself or others question the merit of what I’ve written – that’s the tough part.

I sent my book Aquila – Can Silvanus escape that god? to a professional editor to discover her opinion. She answered with a detailed but rather critical review: it was far too long, it had too little action so it dragged, and it was too preachy. I had difficulty swallowing that, because I felt she had not understood where I was trying to go with it.

Then I realised: if she hadn’t understood it, it was because I had failed to communicate. I have now undertaken a major revision, spicing things up, cutting out large chunks and, I hope, making it more readable.

That is a tough lesson to learn sometimes. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do write an outline but find it needs considerable revision as my characters’ lives develop in unexpected ways. Rigid outline schemes like that advocated by KM Weiland in her Structuring Your Novel seem too restrictive to me. On the other hand, a book like  The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is almost uncanny in that it reflects the structure of most successful books and films and gives very useful advice.

Some great books about writing. Now your turn to give some advice: Do you ever get Writer’s Block, and do you have any tips for getting through it?
Writing is a hobby for me and I don’t feel I’m under time pressure to finish my book. This means I can leave it for a few weeks and get on with something else without too much of a nagging conscience. So, perhaps my advice is: Devote yourself to other worthy activities until the inspiration for your book returns.

This may be jumping the gun a bit, but most authors these days think about marketing their book even before they finish it. Is there any marketing techniques you are thinking about?
It’s too early for me to be marketing because my book’s not yet out. But, as always, it’s best to try to see things from the prospective reader’s point of view: What books are similar to one I liked (try yasiv.com)? What is popular in my genre? Then ask yourself what would make him/her choose your book rather than any of the thousands of others he sees? Title? Cover design? Reviews?

One thing is to play the Amazon categories to your best advantage: research similar books and place your book in one niche category and one popular category. Another approach is to advertise through Facebook or Google Ads and monitor what is most successful.

See, I was right, you have been thinking about it. What about your future audience? Do you have a supportive group of readers around you?
I’m amazed how many of my friends, work colleagues, relatives and acquaintances ask how my book is getting on whenever they see me. It’s as if I have been transformed from the person they used to know into an author of a book of historical fiction. Of course, that interest excites me, but I’m not yet sure how to cultivate it in a non-spammy way.



THE LINKS!


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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why does everything take so long? (#IWSG September 2017)


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August was hard. Not specifically writing-wise (thought that was hard, too), but it was generally just one of those months when the universe decides to make life as complicated and challenging as possible.

The whole year has been like that, really. Maybe I'll tell you about it some time, but today's not the day. At least we're not underwater.

I wrote a bit through August, though as usual not nearly as much as I would like. I did actually (more-or-less) finish a draft of a manuscript I've been working on for years. I didn't jump for joy when I did because I've literally been working on this particular draft for 2 years and I know there's a lot more work to come, but in retrospect it's an accomplishment. I also started a short story that I've been thinking about for awhile that's a lot of fun.

So there are some victories, however small, but every word is a challenge. We'll get there, eventually.

We can't all be little girls fulfilling ancient prophecies by pulling swords from ponds.

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September Question 
Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

Sure, I've been surprised by parts of a story when I didn't expect it to go in that direction. Or sometimes when I can't figure out how to make a scene work and then an idea suddenly reveals itself unexpectedly.

Ah, c'mon, the idea wasn't that good...

I think that the biggest surprise is that everything about writing takes so much longer than I think it should. I don't know if it's unreasonable expectations on my part or what, but I keep making plans and deadlines and I never come close to meeting them. You think by now I would have figured this out.

For instance, after I put out Ten Thousand Days in the spring of 2015, I had the manuscript of Hell Comes to Hogtown well underway and I figured I could get it out by that fall. It didn't come out until summer of 2016. When I finished the first draft of Hell Comes to Hogtown in summer 2015 I started working on a major revision to an old book that I thought I could put out in 2016. I just finished that revision, two years later (to be fair I basically completely rewrote the whole novel). The "novelette" Revenge of the Lycanterrancephalopod was supposed to come out for Halloween 2016, but it just came out this spring. And yet, every time I set myself up a deadline, I blow through it without a backward glance.

At the same time, if I just made the deadlines later and more realistic, it would probably just be that much longer before I get anything done.

So I will continue to trudge along and whine about it. Occasionally I will put out small flashes of literary genius, but in the meantime you all get to listen to me complain.

Yeah, that's how I usually feel after listening to me, too.

For those still sticking around, thanks for listening.

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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, August 23, 2017

Books I Should Have Read This Summer


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So two months ago I started writing this list of books I was hoping to read this summer. I'm a slow reader at the best of times, and the last few years I've just had so much trouble concentrating that it's very hard for me to get into a book no matter how much I enjoy it and want to read it. Usually publicly declaring I was going to read something at least marginally increases my chances of getting to it.

Needless to say I never posted the list, and I haven't read any of these books. I suck. Between vacations and various people being sick or out of town and a busier-than-usual summer at work, I just haven't gotten much reading done these past few months. Maybe I'll have to bump this to my fall reading list.

A God in the Shed
by J-F Dubeau

A couple of years ago I submitted my book Hell Comes to Hogtown for a contest at Inkshares. Obviously it didn't win, but this is the book that I thought should have won. It didn't either, which is why it took so long to come out. It's been quite a wait so I'm really looking forward to it. It's has the creepy, brutal feel of a Scandinavian murder mystery with a supernatural bent. The first couple of chapters are really dark, so we'll see how this goes.

The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 
Douglas Adams

At the complete other end of the spectrum... it's been ages since I read the original HHGG books, and I must embarrassingly admit that I've never read the later ones. I was beyond pleased when I found this for $5 at a thrift store. I very much look forward to returning to the universe of Arthur, Ford Prefect et al, but I must admit I can't read Marvin the Paranoid Android without hearing Alan Rickman's voice in my head.
Jem and the Holograms Volume 5
by Kelly Thompson and Gisele Lagace

Yup, I'm a Jem fan and I won't deny it.

To be fair, this is NOT the cartoon you may (or may not) remember for the 80s, and it's certainly not that abomination of a film that came out a couple of years ago. The characters in the new Jem comics by the extraordinary Kelly Thompson are far more modern, fully-fleshed and real. They are body- and - LGBTQ-positive. They are not just barbie-doll-esque caricatures fighting over guys and trying to murder each other (wassup, Misfits) but actual human beings with goals and opinions and ups and downs you can relate to. I hope my daughter can read this book and find role-models to look up to. Hell, I hope my son can, too.
The Vagrant
by Peter Newman

The Vagrant was a big deal a couple of years ago when it came out, and it and its sequels continue to garnish rave reviews. Plus Peter Newman is a really cool guy. It's the story of a silent protagonist protecting a baby as they travel through a monstrous wasteland, so it sounds pretty badass. And a goat is very pivotal to the story for some reason, so I have to check this out. I picked up the Kindle version on a 99-cent sale so I have no excuse not to get around to it.
Beyond Redemption
by Michael R. Fletcher

Another book that was huge in my circles last year, it's the first of a trilogy that Fletcher's publisher stunningly did not pick up for future volumes, despite winning critical acclaim and even a couple of awards. It just didn't have that big sales drive out of the gate to convince the publishers that it was worth investing in future volumes. Much like movie studios, publishers as of late are more concerned with the "opening weekend box office" than anything else.

Mike has gone on to self-publish the second volume with the third forth-coming, and he continues to do well for himself and has published another series with a different publisher. He'll be fine, plus he's Canadian so he has that going for him.

Canada
by Mike Myers

I had to throw some Canadian non-fiction in here somewhere. While I doubt this has the hard-hitting satirical bite of the Canadaland book I reviewed a few months ago, sometimes it's nice to read something funny and positive. Part memoir, part history of Canada, I'm also curious to read exactly what the hell Myers has been up to the last few years. He was on top of the world with stuff like Austin Powers and Shrek, and then he just kind of vanished.

Save the Cat
by Blake Snyder

For those not familiar, this is a very famous and popular screenwriting book that brought to the mainstream a writing formula used by virtually every Hollywood film in existence. It breaks down, in mathematical detail, exactly where every beat in a script should go: when the hero should be introduced, when the theme is revealed, when the hero should suffer his greatest setback in Act II, etc. While it's intended for writing movies it translates very well to novels as well. I will shamelessly admit I've used the formula myself from time to time, even though I've never read the book it came from. I aim to correct this oversight.
King John of Canada
by Scott Gardiner

I found this book on my office's "leave a book, take a book" shelf, which is usually full of crap (Windows 95 for Dummies, or a French copy of 50 Shades, anyone?), but this looks fascinating. For those not familiar, it's the story of Canadian and British government collapsing in a series of weird accidents, and then a random guy in Toronto is named King of Canada. Only it turns out he's really good at being king, and fixes all of the countries problems with common sense solutions. It's obviously satire, but it came out during the height of the country's Conservative led-years, so I'm very curious to see where it goes.

(Side note: Funny how bad we thought it was during during the Conservative Harper years in Canada, and now we're looking down South and I bet you guys wish you had Stephen Harper running your country...)


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

BEST. NIGHT. EVER. Blog Tour!


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Friend of the blog Stephanie Faris has a brand-new book out this month, co-written by a host of talented writers. It sounds like a really fun premise and story so I was thrilled to help her get the word out. Details are below, as well as your chance to win an autographed copy!

THE BOOK!


Love Actually meets Adventures in Babysitting in this hilarious novel written by seven authors about seven classmates who are preparing for a crazy night at their middle school dance.

Lynnfield Middle School is prepped and ready for a dance to remember, including an awesome performance from Heart Grenade, the all-girl band who recently won a Battle of the Bands contest. Seven classmates—Carmen, Genevieve, Tess, Ryan, Ellie, Ashlyn, and Jade—intend to make the most of the night…or at least the five of them who are able to attend do. The other two would sacrifice almost anything to be there.

One thing’s for sure—this entire crew is in for one epic night! Gail Nall, Dee Romito, Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris, and Jen Malone have created a charming, hilarious, and relatable novel that’s perfect for anyone who can’t wait to dance the night away.

THE LINKS!


THE WRITERS!

One of Rachele Alpine’s first jobs was at a library, but it didn’t last long, because all she did was hide in the third-floor stacks and read. Now she’s a little more careful about when and where she indulges her reading habit. Rachele is a high school English teacher by day, a wife and mother by night, and a writer during any time she can find in between.  She lives in Cleveland, Ohio where she writes middle grade and young adult novels. Visit her at RacheleAlpine.com.

Ronni Arno Blaisdell is the author of Ruby Reinvented. She has written for several magazines, blogs, and websites. In a previous life she worked as a publicist in Hollywood, and eventually built a home in Maine. She is a keen SCBWI member and contributor to the KidLiterati.com blog. Visit her online at ronniarno.com.

Alison Cherry is the author of the YA novels Red, For Real and Look Both Ways, and the middle grade novels Willows vs. Wolverines and The Classy Crooks Club. She is a professional photographer and spent many years working as a lighting designer for theater, dance, and opera productions. This whole “writing books” thing is just a cover for the international crime ring she runs out of her Brooklyn apartment. (Shhh, don’t tell.) Visit her online at AlisonCherryBooks.com.

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing. When she isn’t crafting fiction, Stephanie is indulging her gadget geek side by writing for online technology sites. Her work is regularly featured on the small business blogs for Intuit and Go Payment and she is a featured columnist for SmallBizTechnology.com. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Visit her online at StephanieFaris.com.

Jen Malone is a former Hollywood publicist who once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. Jen is also the author of the middle grade novels At Your Service and The Art of the Swap, coauthor of the You’re Invited series, and wrote the YA novels Map to the Stars and Wanderlost. You can visit her online at JenMaloneWrites.com.

Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, the coauthor of You’re Invited and You’re Invited Too, and the author of the young adult novel Exit Stage Left. You can find her online at GailNall.com and on Twitter as @GaileCN. Visit her online at GailNall.com.

Dee Romito lives in her hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she and her family are steadily checking items off their own bucket list of adventures. You’re likely to find her at the local ice cream shop, writing at a cafĂ©, or curled up on the couch with her cats. And while she does her best to be a grown-up most of the time, giggling with her BFFs is still one of her all-time favorite things. To join the fun and create your own bucket list, visit TheBFFBucketList.com.

THE GIVEAWAY!

The Rafflecopter giveaway is for a free hardback copy of Best. Night. Ever. signed by Stephanie Faris!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author JB Reynolds


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Today in my ongoing series of author interviews I'm chatting with JB Reynolds. Reynolds has several excellent stories available (check out Amazon or his website). I've read a couple of them and was quite pleased, he has an easy but poetic style that really sucks you in. He's especially good at making unpalatable things seem sympathetic or even enjoyable. I highly recommend his "Art of Cigarette Smoking." If he can make cigarettes seem inviting, you know he has a gift!

THE AUTHOR!

J.B. Reynolds lives in rural Northland, New Zealand, where he raises children and chickens. He writes humorous short fiction, where tragedy meets comedy and character reigns supreme. His first short story was published while he was a university student, and in between that and a return to serious writing in 2016, he has worked as a graphic designer, landscaper, ski and snowboard technician, librarian, apple picker, and baker of muffins and teacakes.

Nowadays, when not writing, he’s a husband, father, and high school teacher (not necessarily in that order). He enjoys sailing, cycling, and playing music, really loud, when his wife and kids aren’t at home. He has a big garden, where he likes to get his fingernails dirty, and he loves to eat the things that grow in it.

He is currently working on his Crossing The Divide short story series. The stories in the series feature different characters and switch between locations in New Zealand and Australia, but they are all, in a way, coming of age stories and are linked through the theme of relationships.

THE INTERVIEW!

From what I've read of your work, I can't easily place it in any single genre like "mystery" or "romance." What do you call your genre and what drew you to write in it?
I’ve struggled a little to even define the genre for the short stories I’m writing at the moment. I guess it’s humorous contemporary fiction. In some ways, they are coming-of-age stories, but with characters in their late teens and early twenties rather than adolescents. I’m writing in this genre because these were the ideas I had in my head that were the most developed. They’re also stories that have arisen out of my own life experience. Once I’ve finished this series, I have some ideas for short stories that are more fantastical, and I have an idea for a fantasy novel that I’ll get to after that. My reading preferences tend towards sci-fi and fantasy, and that’s where I want to head with my writing.

We all love some good fantasy and sci-fi. Which writers inspire you?
I love the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut and Will Self. Vonnegut is the short story master and has some great tips on writing short stories that I always try to keep in mind when I’m writing them. Will Self is both disturbing and hilarious, and a much better short story writer than novelist, in my opinion. His Grey Area and The Quantum Theory of Insanity short story collections are brilliant. My favourite novelists are Iain M. Banks, because of the grand scope of his imagination; Terry Pratchett, because he manages to be both profoundly silly and profoundly serious at the same time; and Paul Auster, because his storytelling seems so graceful and elegant and effortless. I’m sure it isn’t; he probably sweats blood like most other writers, but that’s how it reads on the page. But I think the writer who most inspired me to write was Hunter S. Thompson. His passion for what he does just blazes out of the page. There was a point in my life when I wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson, but I didn’t have the balls.

Few of us have the balls to trip balls like he did. 

Change of topic, but this one is always a hot button with independent authors: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Absolutely! And the great thing about ebooks is that you can change them. I trained as a graphic designer so I’ve done my own, but you can always improve things.  I’ve changed mine three times, so far. To be honest, I’m not the world’s greatest graphic designer and the first two iterations were a bit shit. It’s only after round three that I’ve got something I’m happy with. I’d like to employ an artist to do some drawings for me for future covers as my drawing skills aren’t up to the required standard, especially for sci-fi and fantasy, which is where I want to go with my writing.

For what it's worth I quite like your covers. Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time. Full time is the long-term goal, but currently I get an hour or so every morning to write during the week, a little more in the weekends. Since I started this routine in January of 2016, it’s been life-changing, and I’m much happier for it. It’s slow going, but every little bit helps. This year, I’ve gone down to four days a week at work, and I’m going to spend that one day a week I have without children to look after doing some writing, but also trying to get the bulk of my marketing and admin tasks done.

I feel your pain about juggling kids and work, but building a routine helps tremendously. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
The long term goal is exactly that; to make a career out of it. I want to be successful enough to do it full-time and pay the bills with the money I earn from it. The short and medium term goals are to write more books and grow my audience.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bang On (#IWSG August 2017)


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Well that sucked.



A couple of months ago I talked about how I submitted my book, Ten Thousand Days, to a self-published novel competition. I mentioned that it was some pretty stiff competition (300 entries, many of them by successful, established authors), and that the judging was pretty loose, as the reviewers involved all had very different tastes and were not even required to read all the books, but just to give them a reasonable chance to catch their interest before culling them from the pile.

I knew I wasn't going to win. I knew I wasn't even even going to be a finalist (again, the competition was very, very strong), but I thought at the very least I would get a little exposure and a half-decent review from a notable fantasy review site that I could use in future marketing. I know I'm not a stellar writer by any means, but I don't think I'm the worst, either. I figured I would be eliminated (in my category) without fanfare in the middle of the pack.

You could say I was somewhat floored when I awoke last Monday to discover Ten Thousand Days had been the very first book eliminated.


For context, Ten Thousand Days was cut before the book that was so poorly rewritten the reviewer couldn't get past a few pages. Before the book that had been disqualified for technically being ineligible for the competition. My book was the first one at the top of the list.

Needless to say I was supremely disappointed, completely beside myself. I knew I wasn't going to win, but what could I have done so wrong to be brushed off so quickly?

It would seem the reviewer took offence to an off-handed joke on page 5 and didn't read any further. She thought it was inappropriate and turned her off from the story. Sure it wasn't a great joke, but I never dreamed anyone would take offence to it. It's not even as bad as stuff you hear on prime-time sit-coms. But what can I do? Those are the breaks when you submit your books to reviewers, agents, publishers - you're at the whims of their tastes, and frustrating as it may be that's what you sign up for. Writing is a very subjective thing, everyone likes different stuff and you can't change that.


I'm downplaying it now since I have some distance and perspective, but I will admit I was really upset when it first happened. I've gotten tons of rejections lately but this one really stung, probably because of how public it was (parts of the review were shared on Facebook and Goodreads). I refrained from writing about it right away because I was angry and didn't want to say something I would regret. A few days ago I wrote my first draft of this post but then deleted half of it, because it went into details that I didn't want to dwell on.

I'm trying to let it go. I realized that yes, I might feel like I was treated unfairly, but do you know who else gets treated unfairly? Everyone. Some a lot more than others. (Like, a lot, but I'm not going to go into that now.) I asked for this. I knew what I was getting into, and I can't blame a reviewer for their opinion, tastes or perspective. It's disappointing, but it is what it is.


So yeah, I'm trying to acknowledge my feelings and accept them as valid, but also move on because it's not helpful to dwell on such miserable things. And ranting and raving will only lead to the Dark Side (of the Internet). I'm trying to find lessons from the exercise for the next time. Developing a thicker skin is certainly one. Finding markets for people who will better get my work is another.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

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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, July 12, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author and Blogger Trin Carl


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Today I do a sit-down interview with Trin Carl, a writer and prolific blogger and book reviewer from Minnesota.


THE INTERVIEW!

I know you are working on your book, a YA novella called "O Brother." Do you find feedback from online writers’ critique forums helpful in your writing?
Online critiquers are especially helpful.  To receive such immediate feedback from writers on websites like Scribophile has helped me so much.  Sometimes in person critique groups can be intimidating for beginning writers so meeting writers in an online setting has its potential.  I suppose it can be compared to introverts finding their love on an online site like match.com.

My regular readers know I have some unusual writing habits, and I understand you do, too. What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of writing in varied environments vs. writing in the same environment everyday?  
I never write from home.  I feel home is a place you hang your hat but it’s also filled with distractions.  I like to write away from home so that I feel like I’m truly at work and where my ideas flourish.

That's a great way to look at it. Every writer has different techniques and processes. If you could talk to any famous writer, what would you say?  
I would ask the writer about their routines, their motivation.  I would ask them about those secrets in a novel that remain mysterious yet amazing.  Let’s say for instance I had a sit down with Donna Tartt, I would really want to know how she found the time and energy to write such long beautiful narratives.  My writing tends to swing towards the shorter novella so I would really like to know how she works out her outlines to draw out the story.

You review a number of books on your blog. What do you look for in a book? Do you have any advice for readers?
Readers rarely get posed this question.  But I think it’s important to address the reader.  Therefore: Reader what are you looking for when you pick up a book?  Is it for time pass?  Is it because someone told you to read it?  What makes you reading a book so special?

What about other kinds of entertainment? What is your favorite movie?
 I loved the movie Kite Runner.  I would love to have a son like the character of Hassan. Someone who is so genuine and forgiving and humble.  Hassan’s character is a devoted servant and loyal friend to his brother Amir.  Hassan eventually dies to the hands of the Taliban, in Afghanistan for defending his father’s house from takeover.  


THE AUTHOR!

Trin Carl writes YA and Contemporary fiction.  She enjoys dance and writing her two blogs50schoolsn90days and theglobaldig.blogspot.com. From Minnesota, Trin enjoys the outdoors and all the seasons, especially the fall as it reminds her of her days teaching and attending school at Metropolitan State University.  She can be contacted on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.com/trincarl

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

STRANGELY FUNNY IV Release! (#IWSG July 2017)


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IWSG Day! It came at a perfect time, since last week was absolute shit for me personally, but I'll spare you the details of that.

The one bright spot was that I found out STRANGELY FUNNY IV, the anthology featuring my short story, was released on Monday! I've been waiting months for this, and it's finally a reality!

Behold, the appropriately weird cover:


Yes, the cover depicts zombies playing basketball with skulls. Possibly their own heads. It's the kind vibe that this humourous supernatural/horror anthology is going for.

The story I contributed is called "Save or Die." It's a comic fantasy in the vein of my "Werebear vs Landopus" stories, but it's way less obscene. It's like a PG-13 Grimdork. If you're into self-aware comic fantasy and roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, you'll probably appreciate my story. I received a proof copy of the book and everything I've read so far is pretty great.

I was absolutely stunned earlier this year when my story was accepted, not only because it was the first real acceptance I've received for one of my submissions, but it was the very first time I submitted that particular story anywhere. To compare, I've had another story (one I personally thought was better) rejected 12 times already this year. I guess with "Save or Die" I just had the right piece for the right market at the right time.

Strangely Funny IV is edited by Sarah E. Glenn and published by Mystery and Horror, LLC. You can check it out here.

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IWSG Question for July:
What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

Ideas are worth shit.

Everyone has ideas. Many of them suck, some of them are fabulous, but until you actually make something out of them, they're worthless. A finished story is worth thousands of good ideas.

How many people out there say they have great ideas for books but have just never gotten around to writing it? Or have half-finished manuscripts they've been working on for years? I was there for a long time myself, and I always felt crappy about it.

I didn't feel better until I actually finished my first book and got it out there. Sure, it's not setting the world on fire, but just the act of finishing it and putting it out there into the world is a tremendously satisfying accomplishment. That alone puts me ahead of many people, and it's an achievement I really don't stop to appreciate often enough.

So I'm going to stop and appreciate it today. I need every victory I can get.

Get out there and make your ideas into something real. You'll feel way better once you do.



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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, 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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