Cruising to fifty, part seven: Films, fags and farting chairs

This is the seventh part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. You can read the others here:
part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.

There was a farmer who had a dog,
And Bingo was his name-o.
And Bingo was his name-o.

B-I-N-G-O – Traditional

October 11: At sea

Our one and only full day at sea, we found ourselves with no agenda. A day of sleeping in, and resting and reflecting on the amazing week we’ve had so far.

We woke late and, after taking our time, went down to breakfast, then bummed around the ship, checking out some areas we either hadn’t seen up to now or wanted to see more of.

Karen thought she might be interested in giving the morning session of bingo a shot. If it was any good, she might even hit the afternoon session. Turns out a ton of people wanted to play bingo, so, with limited seating left of the deck, we could only find seating in the smoking section.fag

You’d think that wouldn’t be a big deal out in the open air of the top deck, but you’d be wrong. Remember, we’re Canadians, (where, as a friend says, you can marry a fag, but you can’t smoke one–and before you get all uppity about “fag,” a gay friend has officially and formally allowed me to use the term as I see fit. So there. Nyah.) used to people huddling out in the middle of nowhere, smoking their butts as outcasts of society, not provided areas to smoke. No_Smoking_page.pngSo, yeah, it was nasty. And while it was nice to be out in the open on the Mediterranean, Karen also found the sea breeze cold.

And finally, the bingo caller, one of the ship’s entertainers, was a complete and utter dick. He might have thought he was amusing, because he seemed to be insanely entertained by the noise coming out of his mouth, but no, he was just a dick. Enough of a dick that it turned her off from coming back to the afternoon session.

By then, it was lunch, so we sat with a couple from Australia and a Swiss couple. The Aussies seemed nice, but the wife really seemed to have a burning need to name every single city and country they’d visited. Now, granted, it was an impressive list, but after a while I was simply hoping she’d give it a rest and move to another topic that we could all participate in.

The Swiss couple, however, we quite enjoyed. He had lived for a time in both Montreal and Vancouver and they were both very interesting to chat with.

Afterward, we headed down to try our hand at another challenge (seeing as how we kicked such serious ass at the Classic Rock one). This time it was movie theme songs. Now, this one, I basically took a back seat to, as Karen was the movie master. We had the same host as the Classic Rock challenge. I’d found him friendly, but only mildly amusing last time around, but this time, he was hysterical.

The trick this time was for him to play a snippet from a movie theme, and we had to name the film.

RaidersteaserThe first one was ridiculously easy, the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme. The second one immediately proved Karen’s superiority at this game. I heard the snippet, was sure it was the song The Heat Is On and went to put down Beverly Hills Cop.


Karen flashed her don’t even consider questioning me look, told me…okay, sorry, demanded I write down Top Gun and not interfere with her genius. Which, to be fair, really was the right move. I’d hear something, have no clue whatsoever, and she’d be there with the title.The song, of course, was not The Heat Is On, it was Danger Zone.topgun

In the end, we only missed two. Beetlejuice and Jurassic Park and got beaten out by a group of six from Ottawa who got a perfect 16/16. Ah well, no umbrellas this time. The prize was luggage tags, so no biggie. Still, Karen kicked ass.beetlejuice

Now, I mentioned that the host was hysterical. What made it funny was that this entire challenge was based on us listening to the snippets, but the game was continuously interrupted by a ship announcement, which isn’t funny in its own right, but by the third announcement cut in– “To BINGO or NOT to BINGO? THAT is the QUESTION!” –the host’s reactions were screamingly funny. And then, just as the announcement finished, the host would open his mouth to say something, then the message would again. In Italian. The again. In German. Then again. In Spanish. I can’t do it justice, but it was hilarious.

After a lazy afternoon, we had a quiet dinner by ourselves. Now, as it happened, we sat nearby another table of four who were talking books. Killed me, but no, today was about the two of us. And dinner was about the two of us right now.

Then I heard the words, “Pet Sematary” and seconds later, “Stephen King.” Without breaking stride from the meat she was cutting, literally without looking up, she said, “Tobin. No.”PetSematary

Meanwhile, I’d already reacted, glancing over at their table. Likely with a longing look. But no, I needed to fight this. Listen to the wife. Eyes front, soldier.

A few minutes later, I moved to get up for dessert and my belt rubbed against the back of the vinyl seat, making a farting noise. Karen glanced up sharply, gave me the stink eye and said, “That wasn’t you, was it?” Death awaited a positive response.

“It’s not me!” I said desperately. I pointed at the offending furniture. “It’s the chair!”

This got the Pet Sematary woman laughing beside me and she apologized, still chuckling.

Well, hell, that was the only opening I needed. Pet Sematary woman had spoken to me. So of course I had to throw in some comment referencing their Stephen King conversation from minutes earlier.

At which point Karen flashed the stink eye again. “Couldn’t not say it, could you?”

Guilty as charged. It did, however, lead to a short but pleasant chat with the four of them. And one of the couples (not the Pet Sematary woman and her husband, but the other couple) seemed very nice. About our age, very friendly.

Then, we crashed early, because we were up early the next morning for our last stop on the cruise, Dubrovnik, in Croatia.


The pirates of Port Perry

My friend Pat over at Nine Day Wonder (who, by the way, did a great interview with me that you should check out right here) is a big crime fiction fan.  So big, in fact, that she’s dragging me into the genre.

Not that I’ve avoided it.  I’ve been reading and loving Elmore Leonard’s stuff for years, as well as Dennis Lehane and a few others.  But in the last few years, Pat’s encouraged me enough to judge unpublished manuscripts of the CWC’s Arthur Ellis awards, got me out to a book launch for a local crime writer, Howard Shrier and even to try my hand at a mystery novel myself…which is a story in its own right.

Anyway, long story short, I remember walking around a bookstore with her a few months back and, in my hazy memory, I seem to remember her telling me that Ian Rankin was a great author.  Fair enough, but I didn’t pick up any of his books at the time, as I’d already grabbed a few books on her recommendation and mentally noted to check him out at some unspecified future date.

Now, flash forward to last Thursday evening when I had occasion to be in the Port Perry hospital visiting both my mother and my aunt–again, another story all on its own.  Here’s the thing…on the way out from the visit, I walked by the gift shop, which was closed.  But they had a wheeled cart stacked high with books.  Taped to the side of the cart was a price list (Hardcovers 50 cents, paperbacks 25 cents, magazines free) and an envelope that you can drop your money in.  Totally on the honour system.

You gotta love small towns, don’t you?

Anyway, not ever able to resist a stack of books, I took a quick scan through and noticed an Ian Rankin book.  Hmm, I thought.  Good way to discover if he is any good.  For 25 cents, how can I go wrong?  Then I found a second book, then a third.

Then I noticed the whole row.  It should be noted that only one of these books even had the spine broken.  They looked brand new.

When I pulled them out and stacked them up and counted them, there was a total of 24 books.  $6.00 for 24 books. Even if I hate the guy, I’ve still spent less than I would on one of his books in Chapters.

I pulled out three toonies and put them in the envelope and trotted my new library out the door.

Then, on the drive back home, I started thinking.  Obviously someone at some time presumably went to a store and purchased these books at full price and Mr. Rankin dutifully received his cut.

The owner then either read the books, or cast them aside, eventually donating them somewhere that they would end up in a cart under my questing fingers.  And the hospital got the rough equivalent of four Tim Horton’s coffees out of my pocket.

So, here’s where my thoughts went: How is this different from internet piracy?
Let me put it another way.  If I went online today and managed to find a copy of the latest John Grisham or Danielle Steele or Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King or the aforementioned Elmore Leonard or Dennis Lehane.  Pick your famous author.  Let’s say I found an ebook version of one of their books that could be copied.  Let’s say I purchased that ebook for the full price.
Then, after reading the book, it’s just sitting there.  Now, let’s say I’m a disciplined guy and I offer that ebook up on the internet for 25 cents to the first person that reaches out to me.  And they pay me and I send them the book.
That’s piracy.  Arrrrrr, ya scurvy dog!
I can be fined or sentenced to jail time or whatever.  It’s Not Good.  Right?
Now, I’m not naive.  I know that whenever music files or movies or ebooks are shared, they aren’t just shared with one person.  That’s the thing with an electronic copy of anything, it can be copied as much as possible without any loss of quality.  So when they’re shared, they’re shared with the world.
And here’s another thing to think about.  If the Port Perry hospital had had only the one Ian Rankin book, I would have tossed my quarter into the envelope, and from there, read the book and possibly enjoyed it enough to go pick up another book or two from Rankin, thereby adding to his income.
Instead, from what I can tell, I got the full collection of his Inspector Rebus novels, as well as a bunch of others.  24 books spans a lot of years of writing.  Unless Rankin releases something new, I’ve got a ton of his books, enough to last me a couple of years at the very least.  I won’t be buying anything new from him for a long while.
So, did this help Rankin?  Or hurt him?
I’ve gone out into the Twitterverse and talked about how I think piracy can help as much as it hinders.  I’ll admit to downloading an illegal copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club which I then enjoyed immensely.  To prove my point, I then posted the picture of the 11 Palahniuk books I purchased at full price, including Fight Club.  The first Harry Potter adventure was the first audiobook I ever listened to and, not sure that I would even like audiobooks, I got a copy from the internet.
Not only did that cause me to purchase audiobooks going forward, but it also spurred me to buy every book J. K. Rowling released.
So, in these cases, did piracy hurt Rowling?  Or Palahniuk?  Or the audiobook market?  Hell no.
And personally, if my book Vanishing Hope ever gets released in ebook format, personally, I almost hope it’ll be pirated.  Yes, it won’t earn me any money, but I guarantee a lot more people will know my name, get exposed to my writing and perhaps, going forward, decide to purchase something else I wrote.
But back to the 25 cent books.  My question is, why is it legal for all the used book sellers to do so?  The authors aren’t making money off it.  The publishers aren’t.  And yet, within a half-hour’s drive, I know of at least stores of the top of my head that engage in this process.
Why aren’t the publishers going nuts over this?  How many stores sell used books nationally?  Internationally?
But which is sexier?  Online pirates are definitely sexier.  They’re the Captain Jack Sparrows to the retail stores…Cap’n Crunch (sorry, I couldn’t come up with an unsexy pirate).
And yes, the online pirates definitely have more reach.
But seriously.  In my opinion, online pirates have led me to actually spending money for stuff.  The Pirates of Port Perry got six bucks out of me and stopped me from paying retail for Ian Rankin.
Think about it.

Book Review: Bleed – Ed Kurtz

Before I go anywhere with this review, full disclosure:

  1. I’ve come to know Ed Kurtz as a friend and fellow writer; and,
  2. I’m writing a novella in his Sam Truman Mysteries series.

Also, in full disclosure, I promised Ed an honest review of the book on Amazon, which I will also do and you can click on the link to read (look for the one titled “If you want blood, you’ve got to BLEED”).

Now, with those preliminaries out of the way, on to Bleed.

This book did not pan out the way I expected it to.  Now, I’m not one of those reviewers that gives you the entire plot of a book in the review, just because I hate that, to be honest.  I want to experience a book with very little foreknowledge.  So, all I’m going to tell you up front (and yes, there will be other hints along the way) is that Walt Blackmore buys himself a fixer-upper that comes with something else that needs some fixing up.  It starts as a stain on the ceiling and it gets a lot worse from there.

So, as I said, this book didn’t go the way I expected it to.  And, coming at it as a writer, I got slightly less than halfway through and gave up trying to figure out what Kurtz was doing or where he was going, because, quite frankly I would have finished the story off at the halfway mark.

But Kurtz takes you so much farther.  This is so not a book for the faint of heart.  And I don’t say any of this as a bad thing.  Kurtz’s strengths lie in the senses.  You aren’t just shown the horrors.  They’re slammed in your ears.  They’re rammed down your throat.  They’re punched up your nose.  Your eyes never stand a chance.  And Kurtz is relentless with this, especially in the last third of the story.  I haven’t waded in this much blood and gore and offal since John Skipp and Craig Spector’s brilliant novel, The Scream.

But for all that, this isn’t a splatterpunk novel, or gore for gore’s sake.  It didn’t occur to me until that last third, but I finally figured out, at least to me, what Bleed was for me.

If you shrink the hotel down to a farmhouse, take the embodied evil in it and give it form, remove the kid with the power and amp up the killing…this is Ed Kurtz taking on The Shining.  When I clued in to that, honestly, I just sat back and enjoyed the thrill ride.

Coming at it as a reader, it’s goofy, it’s fun, and it’s insanely over the top in parts, but over all, intensely horrible.  Again, all in a good way.  Coming at it as a writer (as is, unfortunately, my curse), I would have done it a little differently, removing a couple of characters, mashing a couple of other ones together, slight adjustments to pacing…but these are minor.  I can say the same damn thing for Stephen King’s 11/22/63…so what do I know?

I’m sure Ed would say the same for the stuff I write as well.  We all see it through our own lenses.

In the end, however, I reserve the highest praise for Kurtz’s creation of one of the most ferocious monsters in modern-day fiction.  Bottom line, you can have the story and the characterization perfect, get the suspense nailed down, but if your monster sucks or just doesn’t move you, then the story’s crap.

Ed Kurtz’s story is so not crap.

Worth the money?  Hell yes.  I personally read the ebook edition, but I will absolutely be picking up a hard copy.  This is one I want in my library.

Write on!

I’m exactly 29 days in on my resolution to follow Cara Michaels’ #WIP500 project.  You can read all about it here, but in nutshell, she’s created an alternative to NaNoWriMo’s one-month novel writing marathon by spreading the goal out to the entire year while also lowering the daily word count significantly.

In NaNoWriMo, you have to average 1667 words per day to hit the target of 50K words in one month.  50K words is a significant chunk of one novel, roughly somewhere between one-half to two-thirds of the total word count of about 75-100K words.

And I totally applaud the reasoning behind NaNoWriMo.  I really do.  I wrote about it here and I still agree with everything I said.

Problem is, it’s only thirty days, and it’s only a month before the craziness that is Christmas.  I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s usually a busy time at work, my thoughts are straying to what to buy loved ones for Christmas, and all the daily crap that comes along.  And if you miss even one or two days, suddenly you’re now looking at 1700-1800 words per day.

I know everyone writes at different rates.  For example, Pat Flewwelling over at Nine Day Wonder thinks nothing of pounding out a 300-350 page manuscript over the three-ish days of the Muskoka Novel Marathon.  She consistently wins the “Most Prolific Author” award.  And the thing that pisses me off is, the stuff is good.

In fact, Pat and I were chatting the other day and, when she includes her blogs in her word count, she’s averaging a reasonably Stephen King-like rate of just shy of 5000 words per day.

5000 words.  Every.  Damn.  Day.

Again, for the initiated, that’s 20 manuscript pages every day.  It means she’s essentially creating enough words for a novel every twenty days, or, at a steady pace, just over 18 novels a year.

Obviously, NaNoWriMo is not a problem for Prolific Pat.  But it is for me.

Which is why I gravitated toward the #WIP500 idea.  All you are asked to do is 500 words each day.  That’s about two pages, double-spaced.  That takes me 20 minutes, on average.

So, I hear you say, if 500 words only takes you 20 minutes, then NaNoWriMo’s 1667 words should take you just over an hour a day, right?

In theory, yes.  In reality, what I’ve learned from this whole exercise is that much over a thousand words and I slow down considerably.  How do I know this?  Because, for the first twenty days of this year, I aimed for the 500 words and, with the exception of one day, hit it easily.

Starting just over a week ago, I started a different project, a novella called Soft Kiss, Hard Death.

Let me take a minor detour here for a second to talk about Soft Kiss.  Early in January, Ed Kurtz, a fellow horror author and a man with a sense of humour as dark as my own, reached out with an intriguing prospect.  He’d written a novella called Catch My Killer! which is positioned as the first in a proposed series of six Sam Truman Mysteries novellas under Kurtz’s own Abattoir Press imprint.  He explained that Sam’s a PI working in an unidentified New York-style setting in 1960.  And he just happens to get twisted up in some supernatural shit.  Then he asked me if I’d be interested in taking Sam on an adventure of my own.

Would I?  Would I?  Hell yes!

I had a plot kicking around that I’d started to write a couple of years back under the name Out that I just didn’t know where to take.  When Ed told me about Sam Truman, I immediately saw the possibilities.  I quickly wrote a synopsis, shot it off to Ed, and Ed gave me the thumb’s up.

The plan as I understand it, is for Abattoir Press to release an ebook version of each of the six stories a couple of months apart through 2012, then collect the stories in two hard copy versions (mysteries 1-3 in one volume, 4-6 in the second) next year.

Now, having said all that, Ed’s only read the really rough first draft prologue and hasn’t seen the rest yet, and for all I know, he’ll read it and wish to hell he’d reached out to someone with some talent instead of a dude with questionable talent, loose morals and a fascination for scatological stories.  But for now, he still thinks I may have some talent, so please, no one tell the man differently, okay?  In the meantime, you can watch for more news here.

Anyway, I promised him a first draft in March and I’d like to get it all written and debugged before then.  So, because of the deadline, I upped my daily target to 1000, just for the duration of this project, which should be complete no later than mid-February.

So, for the last nine days, I’ve been punching out 1000 words a day on average.  And I’m finding it harder to get done.  Obviously it takes me longer than the twenty minutes.  I find myself checking the word count more often and groaning if I’ve only managed 700-800 words.

I never did that with the 500.  I found I could do the sprint, then get up and walk away with a lot more still in the tank.

I also don’t do that when writing blogs.  But blogs are a whole different animal.  I’ll really think through anything I write for fiction.  I’ll check it over and rewrite it multiple times.  But blogs?  I sit down with a basic idea and just start typing.  Blogs shape themselves and anything you read from me in a blog is first draft.  I write it, add the pictures, add the tags and publish, bing bang boom.

I wish writing fiction was half as easy.

So, this is just my way of sending a big thank you to Cara Michaels first of all.  Without her, I guarantee I’d be struggling to get some words down everyday.  Without her, I wouldn’t have made it well past 20K words in less than a month.

By the way, just so you know how important this is to me, I didn’t write 10K words last year, the entire year.  And no, I’m not counting blogs I wrote last year, and I don’t count my blogs in my daily word count this year either.

If you’re interested in participating, you can join up at any time throughout the year.  All Cara asks is that you update on her site at least once a week or she’ll “drop you from the list like yesterday’s news”.  And she’ll start your count from the date you started.

I think the other thing that helped me was making myself accountable, which is why, for the full month of January, I posted daily updates on Facebook, Twitter and on another page of this blog.

I’m guessing most of my FaceTweet friends don’t really give a shit how much I’ve written, so going forward, I will continue to update Cara’s site and my Daily Word Count page every day.  But for FB and Twitter, I’ll likely do more of a end-of-the-month summary.

But the cool thing is, I’ll definitely keep writing.