Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Real Origins of Canada


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

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


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

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

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

Haida long houses and totem poles, circa 1878.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Good Ol'-Fashioned Saturday Night Wrasslin'


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

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

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

Any excuse I can find to use this image.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You thought I was kidding about people nearly killing themselves?

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

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

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

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



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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

INTERVIEW with Author MD Neu


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

THE INTERVIEW!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WRITER!

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

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

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

THE LINKS!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured: A polite, "good try" review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last thing...


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

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

Blurb is below.

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

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

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

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

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

PICK-UP REVENGE OF THE LYCANTERRANCEPHALOPOD FOR FREE!

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

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