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
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