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Why I’m a Big Fan of Kevin Smith (Again)

It’s time I tell you about Kevin Smith. Some of you might be saying, “Who?” but let me assure you that you are probably familiar with at least a small portion of his body of work. I won’t go into all of it here, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of covering it, but I will highlight a few key things. 
Kevin’s rise in Hollywood started with the low-budget film, Clerks, starring two characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by Smith). It was picked up by the Weinstein studio, Miramax, and thus began the View Askew franchise. Kevin would crank out a bunch more flicks with the Weinsteins over the years and that relationship solidified Kevin’s place in the movie-making world. 
Kevin before anything else is a writer, and this is where his influence on me comes into play. This very blog and the beginning of my writing career owes it’s continued existence, in part, to Kevin Smith. I wrote about it back on November 14, 2010, in a post I titled “Brick Walls, New Beginnings” and it was absolutely the pivotal moment in my journey as a writer. I’d encourage you to go take a look at that post when you’re done with this one. 
Aside from jump-starting my butt into gear writing-wise, that was also the beginning of the boost in viewership to my blog (it went from a few people reading it to a few dozen people reading it!) That may not seem like much, but when your blog is essentially only being read by your mom and a few friends and then you have literal random strangers reading it from all over the world, well, that’s a big thing. 

Anyway, this is all just the long way of saying that I went from simply enjoying Kevin Smith’s work to being a big fan. Sure, we’ve had our bumps along the road, and I’ll fully admit that over the last few years my interest has waned. But, BUT, Kevin has this way of doing something that always pulls me back in. 
At the top of that list is his love and respect for his daughter (and all women, for that matter) which, in my opinion, sets the gold standard, as well as his ability to interact positively with fans, and generally be a good human.

Example 1: Responding to an Instagram Troll Who Cyberbullied Harley

There’s a great article on it from Greg Gilman at The Wrap. I’ll summarize it as best I can:

  • A troll tries to take a bite out of Harley Quinn Smith.
  • Smith responds not with vitriol or a counterattack, which would not surprise anyone if he were not Kevin Smith, but he is, and he fired back with some sage advice. 

You can view the whole message below, but here’s the ending:

“You want attention? Don’t make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you’re not being useful in this world you’re being useless. Don’t be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy!”

What it’s like to be my daughter: 17 year old @harleyquinnsmith_ received this message simply for the heinous crime of posting a pic of herself on @instagram. I have zero clue what the reference to #TheMatrix is all about but, wow – way to unload on a teen girl because YOU have nothing to do in life. But even though I should be apoplectic about it, my kid thought it was funny. “I’d be mad if I had a tiny dick and anonymous voice too,” she said, bemused by the bitterness. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice for folks like this Troll: if you hate me (or my kid) this much, the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. The best revenge is living insanely well – so if you wanna get back at a 17 year old girl for the grievous crime of enjoying her life, the best way to do it is to succeed in your OWN existence. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Because randomly attacking others merely communicates how creatively and emotionally bankrupt you are. You think you have something to offer the world but others are getting all the attention? Don’t bitch or punish the world: just create. Create something nobody’s ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you. Attacking teen girls on the Internet is the saddest form of masturbation that exists and requires no discernible skill or talent. You want attention? Don’t make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you’re not being useful in this world you’re being useless. Don’t be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy! #KevinSmith #HarleyQuinnSmith #YogaHosers
A post shared by Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) on

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Example 2: Response to an Uber Driver Who Tried to Abduct Harley

This is a scary story which Stephanie Webber from US Weekly magazine outlines. Again, I’ll sum it up: 

  • Shit-for-brains Uber driver tries to abduct Kevin Smith’s daughter, Harley.
  • She avoids a really terrifying situation.
  • Kevin sends out an immediate warning tweet to his 3.36 million followers.
  • Gets Harley a big “Sorry Men Suck” cake.

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Example 3: Donating His Residuals From Weinstein Movies to Women in Film

A short but good write-up from Joyce Chen at Rolling Stone can be summarized thusly: Smith feels ashamed of his association with Harvey Weinstein and is henceforth donating all the residuals from the movies he made with him to Women in Film, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women working in the screen industries.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThose are just a few big, public examples of Kev doing the right thing. Countless other more subtle examples can be found by listening to one of his many podcasts or going to one of his patented An Evening With Kevin Smith Q&A sessions, or simply following him on Twitter. Hell, when he heard about the elder abuse happening with comic book legend Stan Lee his first instinct was to reach out and offer the 95-year-old Lee a place to live and this was AFTER Kevin himself suffered a near-fatal heart attack just six weeks earlier!

So, for anyone who cares, I’m back on the Kevin Smith fanboy train (again) though I’m not sure I ever fully left. To this day I wonder if he ever hung the photo art I gave him.

In SMOD we trust.

Thank you, sir, for continuing to create, for continuing to inspire others to create, and for making it appear easy to always do the right thing.

~ Andrew


Link List:

Writer of the Lost Ark

It started with a simple quote from the writing legend Stephen King (as shared on Facebook by the inimitable Rachel Thompson at BadRedhead Media):

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
This quote resonates with me. It certainly applies whenever I embark on a public speaking endeavor and is especially true when I’m about to get on stage. I haven’t experienced either of those events in a long while though. These days, all my scary moments come at the keyboard. 
The idea that the scariest moments are always just before you start is a concept that I live through every time I sit down to write. It doesn’t even have to be a new idea, either. I can be 75,000 words (approximately 300 pages) into a novel and I will still have that moment of fear right as I sit down for the day. 
My hands hover over the keyboard and I wiggle my fingers. You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one right before Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones swaps the sandbag for the statue? That’s me at my writing desk. I stare at the page, whether it’s blank or filled with hundreds of words, and I justlook at it. I know what I need to do. Of that, there is no doubt, and yet there is no typing. I steel myself and take a big breath and consider what’s in front of me.

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

Finally, after much deliberation and more than one internal battle with my good friend procrastination, I type the first word. I never like the first word. Like Indiana holding up the bag of sand and visually comparing the weight against the idol on the pedestal, I evaluate that first word more critically than any of the others. Also, like Indy, and even though I just started, I make a last-minute change. Only instead of reaching into the bag of sand, taking out a handful, and spilling it on the floor I go to the thesaurus or more often than not, the backspace key.

Then comes the moment of truth. Remember the look that Indy has on his face right after he makes the swap? That confident smirk mashed up with a touch of surprise that it actually worked? Once I start typing I get that same look on my face. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie (which, at this point in my post if you haven’t I’m wondering how I’ve managed to keep your attention) you know that it kind of all goes downhill for Dr. Jones after that.

You see, I’m what they call a pantser. Writers can be generally grouped into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters, well, they plot. They outline. They develop their characters well in advance and often in great detail. They create worlds and laws of nature that govern them. I’ve never done this beyond some simple outline sketches on the back of a cocktail napkin, so I really can’t speak to its effectiveness. I have interacted, or are friends with, a few hundred writers of all ages, backgrounds, genres, and experience and I can tell you that based on the data available to me there are probably more pantsers in the group than plottersbut the percentages aren’t that far off. I’d wager 60/40, or somewhere close.

https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

Getting back to the point of all this, plotting works for a lot of people but it’s just not my thing. As such, I have found that the rest of my writing journey pretty much goes like Indy’s exit from the temple.

First, the temple starts to crumble and I am convinced the sheer weight of the task in front of me will spell the end. However, the reward is too great to ignore so I persist. I put my head down and just keep going. Then, poison darts shoot out from the walls. Sharp and bitter are the words of the critics and naysayers and equally as deadly if they penetrate the skin. Still, I continue. Before I can catch my breath doubt creeps in. If the feeling of inadequacy is the chasm on the floor of the stone tunnel then self-doubt is the guide on the other side, holding the whip that can save my life, if only I hand over the golden idol. It’s a negotiation that’s entirely one-sided, but necessary. Hand him the idol and he’ll save me. Give up on writing this thing and get your life back.

“It’ll be worth it. Trust me,” he says with a wink and a nod (both just as useful to a blind bat).

A lot of the time, I’ll submit to it and just as Indy found out in the movie, it’s not worth it. I want it too badly. The wheels are set in motion and there’s no stopping them now. I said the negotiation with doubt was necessary because without it I’d never know how much I wanted it until I cast it aside. The rock wall is lowering, so I do the only thing I can do. I jump. The words flow through me and I feel relief. I am making progress and the words on the page must feel like the vine in Harrison Ford’s hands as he pulls himself to safety. The feeling is temporary. It will never be good enough. The vine starts to slip. I write and write but don’t feel like I’m making any progress. The vine gives and I start to pull. No matter how many times I pull there’s always more vine, like a giant plate of spaghetti that you eat but never seems to get any smaller. Still, I keep going. I’ve made it this far and quitting isn’t an option. I’m committed and the story isn’t finished.

Persistence pays off as I see my old friend and recent adversary stuck to the wall with metal spikes shot clear through him. The idol lays at his feet. I’m in the home stretch now and confidence is high. Writing the last few chapters happens at breakneck speed. I can taste victory. But what’s that noise? Of course, another obstacle.

Finishing a novel as a pantser isn’t possible without a last-minute wrinkle in the plan. It could be a gap in the plot, an issue with one of the characters, an unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise engaging story… anything really. But it always happens and I again proceed with the only option available. I keep going. The words hit the page like bullets sprayed from an automatic gun and I make the leap to safety.

“THE END”
[File → Save]
Fire the cupcake cannon (Step 6 of 25)

Only, that’s not how it works out for our intrepid hero in the film, does it? Archrival Belloq is waiting at the end to take what Indiana Jones has risked his life for. It’s a bitter pill for him to swallow but in the end, his options are limited. The adversary makes a swift gesture and the game is afoot once again. This time he’ll be lucky to get away with his life.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCjie0DVK7k?rel=0&start=64;end=65]
© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

The red pen of my editor strikes without mercy. Dozens upon dozens of marks pile up like the arrows and poison darts of the Hovitos in the dense jungle. It’s a frenetic dash, but again necessary. It’s out of my hands and my only job is to make it to the plane, get airborne, and deal with a large snake. Snakes, much like the editorial red pen of doom, serve a purposebut that doesn’t mean I want a thousand of them strewn about hissing at me. The book, after all, is my genius child. My blood, sweat, and tears. My prized possession. 

Me: “It belongs in a museum!”

Editor: *Maniacal laughter*

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

~ Andrew

A Rose By Any Other Name

What’s in a name?

As humans, most of us are given our name when we are born or within a couple days after. Some are given their name months before birth and some, for one reason or another, change their name later on in life.

My mother has a unique name, Bari-Lynne. I forget the exact story behind it but it stemmed from her parents having one name picked for a boy (Barry) and one picked for a girl (Lynn or Lynne) but when the time came my grandmother called an audible at the line of scrimmage and they hyphenated and tweaked the spelling. When my mother was having her first child, the song Carrie Ann by The Hollies was quite popular and my mom quite liked it. So, taking a page out of her mother’s book, she tweaked the spelling and hyphenated and came up with Kari-Anne.

By Imperial Records – Billboard, page 19, 10 July 1965, Public Domain, Link

My wife and I, like many parents I’m sure, antagonized over what to name our first child. With four parents and two grandparents still alive between us, there was no way we were going to be able to honour everyone, especially since our plan at the time was to only have one child. We weren’t keen on using a name from a popular song or celebrity personality either. The end result saw us using a combination of our initials and incorporating my wife’s maiden name as a second middle name. We felt it was a good system. For our second child, we kept the same system. My last name, wife’s maiden name as a second middle name, first name starting with “A” and a middle name starting with “J”.

That said, most of the time we refer to them as “Pants” and “Dude”, or if we’re being formal, “Pantalonies” and “Doodle”. You see, their true names evolved over time and ended up being something that fit their personalities and their lives. In my son’s case, the name on his birth certificate is the name we use the least. At a very young age, due to the popularity of his name at Gymboree, he became an initialed kid – the first letter of his first name followed by the first letter of his first middle name, so even when we’re not calling him “Dude” or “Doodle” we’re still not using his given name. So it goes.

I have always had a hard time with names. I wasn’t much of a writer for the first thirty years of my life but once I was in university I started tinkering with computers and eventually landed a job where I was responsible for naming a whole whack of them. If naming a child is hard then having to come up with names for a library of computers is downright daunting. I’ve named groups of computers as impressionist painters, influential scientists, superheroes (Marvel and D.C.), and even musicians.

Once I started writing, though, the name business got right properly serious. Much like the naming of a child, it is the name by which that character will be known to all others. Unlike a real living and breathing person, however, the name chosen would live in perpetuity, forever inked on the page never to be changed.

By David Monniaux007 Tanuki© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar
CC BY-SA 3.0User:ZX95, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Character naming for me tends to start with my friends. A good deal of my characters have a first name of a friend of mine and the last name of another friend. Sometimes a nickname will be similar and sometimes I will leave a placeholder in all caps and do a search and replace after I’ve written some of the story and the character has a bit more of a personality. Sometimes the names write themselves. A grizzled and aging small-town sheriff was instantly Rusty Ford and his trusty bloodhound was named Bronco.

Since I am always writing or editing at least one book, I’m always in need of good names.With that in mind, here are a couple questions for you:

  1. If you’re a writer, how do you come up with your names?
  2. As a reader, to what degree do the names of characters affect your opinion of the book?
  3. Is there a name that makes you strongly dislike?
  4. Is there a name you love?

~ Andrew

Goodbye to an American Legend

I met him once.

It was a warm summer day in Arkansas. Late July. I had just arrived at the Oghma Creative Media writers’ retreat. At the time I had a contract for one book with them and I was there to learn a few things and meet the people who had my book in their hands.

He was the big star of Oghma, with dozens of titles under their publishing banner and more than a hundred and fifty novels to his name. When he sat down beside me at the critique table I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous as all get-out and for the first critique session, I said nothing. When the second critique session came, however, I had to speak up if I was going to get full value out of the opportunity to pick some of the minds I had the pleasure of spending time with.

I read an excerpt from a book Oghma had not yet committed to publishing. It was the first time I had written fiction in the first person present tense. I spent the hour prior to the critique session rewriting what I had in the third person past tense and I wasn’t too happy with how it was turning out, but I read it anyway. When I was done the feedback was nothing short of wonderful, but there he was beside me, arms folded over his chest, cowboy hat upside down on the table beside him, legs outstretched with his feet crossed. I couldn’t tell if he was impressed, angry, or confused.He stared straight into my writer’s soul, nodded, and said, “I liked it.”

I sat down for the rest of the afternoon and started rewriting the rest of the book. After I read the next session his only feedback was to be careful with the “I, I, I” nature of a first-person narrative. I made a note both mentally and in my manuscript.

Near the end of the retreat, everyone was picking up copies of books from the people they had just met. Knowing my dad likes a nice “oaty” Western, I asked Dusty if he would be so kind as to sign one for him. He picked out a book, the first in a series he thought my dad might like and put a nice little inscription on the inside cover. Then, he handed me The Mustanger and the Lady. He said I should read it and that it was being turned into a movie.  The inscription is something nice. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is nice and I’m glad I have those words from him.

When we got back to the tables in the meeting room he handed the two books to me. I asked him how he would like me to handle payment. He smiled. It was the first time I had seen him smile in two days. He said, “You can give me a copy of your book when it comes out.” He was speaking of Bent But Not Broken, my first book and a collaboration with my wife and daughter. It’s a story about my little princess’s scoliosis surgery and all of the trials and tribulations our family had to endure throughout that journey.

For the last six months, I have been looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to him at the retreat this summer. My book officially launches in two days on January 20th, but as far as Amazon is concerned it’s available for purchase today.

Dusty Richards died this morning. The funeral for his wife, Pat, was just a couple days ago. They were both in a terrible car accident a little while ago and eventually succumbed to their injuries. No one told Dusty that his wife had passed, but I think he knew. You don’t get to be his age and live that kind of life with someone by your side for 56 years and not know in your gut when they’re gone.

I met him once, and I was really looking forward to meeting him again.

~ Andrew
.

Blood Memories and Synchronicity

Coincidences are pretty cool. I try to maintain a skeptical and scientific mind whenever possible, but the human brain’s ability to find patterns and propensity to seek out connections is at times too strong for me to overlook.

Three years ago today I donated blood to my daughter for her pending scoliosis surgery. It’s what Canadian Blood Services calls a directed donation. In the case of parents and children, if their blood is a match, the parent can donate blood to the child. Avery ended up needing 5 liters (more than a gallon) for her surgery so my single donation was literally just a drop in the bucket, but it was an amazing moment for me and Canadian Blood Services worked a good bit of magic to ensure that I was able to do this for my daughter. My wife gave her life, and I got to help save it. I vowed from that day forward to donate as many times as it would take to match the number of donors needed for her surgery, and then keep donating as long as they will allow me to. Avery needed fifteen donors to keep her alive during surgery and today will mark my twelfth donation.

If you’ll allow me to stray from the scientific path for a second we’re going to get into some wacky numerology stuff.

  • Today is the January 8.
  • It’s 12 days until the third anniversary of Avery’s surgery (also, in case you haven’t heard, the Bent But Not Broken book (One Family’s Scoliosis Journey) is coming out in 12 days as well).
  • Today will be my 12th donation.
  • When I showed up at the clinic I had to wait. They gave me a number.

Even weirder is the fact that I was talking with this woman, Kelly after my blood donation and her boyfriend’s mother is about to have back/spine surgery. She jotted down the title of the book so she could pick up a copy for her.

Cue freaky Twilight Zone-like music.

Now, if that were the only synchronicity-ish thing to happen today I wouldn’t get too excited, but you guessed it, something else happened today that worked out in a rather fortunate way.

I was late getting to work. There was lots of snow and Avery helped me shovel the driveway and it made her late for the bus, which was late anyway but there was no way she was getting to school in time unless I drove her, so I drove her. It’s a solid twenty minutes out of my way but I was happy to do it so she wouldn’t miss anything. Then, I had to get gas. Then, because of the shitty weather, it took an hour to get to work instead of my usual twenty-five minutes. So far just another snowy day in Canada for people on the go and dependent on cars to get to work.

Because I got to work so late, I ate my breakfast late. Because I ate my breakfast late I ate my snack late (mmm cheese). Because I ate my snack late I ate my lunch late. Because I ate my lunch late I was microwaving it a good half hour later than I would have been on any other day.

Today, it so happens that someone at the coffee machine across from the microwave was a colleague I have not spoken to in a while. So we start catching up on stuff. Naturally, at some point, I start plugging the book and giving her the whole story about how it comes out soon and we’re so excited to get it in the hands of other families who have children with scoliosis.

Standing on the other side of the kitchen was a woman in for training. I think she was from New York or maybe Boston. Definitely not from here, and I detected the slightest hint of an accent (I’m not going to guess which one for fear of getting it wrong and inciting some sort of Boston vs. New York riot). Anyway, she overheard our conversation and when I showed Avery’s before and after x-rays mentioned that she used to work with a company that specializes in low-dose spine x-rays and still does some talks on the subject. Cool.

THEN, she mentioned that she knows the founder of Curvy Girls (at least I think that was the connection). Curvy Girls is totally safe to Google at work. It’s a network of girls and young women who have gone through scoliosis bracing and/or surgery that provide a support system for other girls going through the same thing. This mystery colleague hopes to get me some contact information while she’s here this week.

I looked them up on the web and when I asked Avery if she was interested in becoming one of their leaders she said she was and that it would be “epic”. So we’ll see how that all unfolds. I have to tell you, knowing about Curvy Girls three and a half years ago would have been a godsend, but alas, we seem to have been destined to tell our own story and now with the book coming out and hopefully getting Avery involved with Curvy Girls we are.

~ Andrew

More Music Mastery: Part 2

Day 13 – A song you like from the 70’s

This is another category that I could spend days and days deciding on which one to pick. Rush formed in the 70’s. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. John Lennon. Jimi Hendrix. Neil Young. The list goes on and on. In the end, “there can be only one”, and I’m going to have to go with a band that scored the soundtrack from the movie I pulled that quote from. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (who did the soundtrack for the movie Highlander, for those following along at home). I’m linking to the best cover of this song I’ve ever heard – and it was done by ONE GUY!

Day 14 – A song you’d love to be played at your wedding

Since I am already married this category makes little sense, so I should go with a song that was actually played at my wedding. I’m not going to, though. Instead, I’m going to go with a song that *could* have been played at my wedding had the organist not done such a masterful job butchering it when she played a few bars for us after we booked her.

Day 15 – A song you like that’s a cover by another artist

Back in high school, I was really into the guitar. Not playing it, mind you, but listening to it. I loved listening to Clapton, Beck, Satriani, Vai, and pretty much anyone that could work magic with a six-string and an amp. There’s one song in particular that I just love listening to and that’s Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover. It’s an instrumental and it is pure genius. I happen to think it’s a really fun song. One day I was just wandering around YouTube listening to covers and I came across these high school kids playing a version of the song for a talent show. I was immediately blown away. Have a watch. These are KIDS for cryin’ in the sink.

Day 16 – A song that’s a classic favourite

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like this song. The sweet dig against Neil Young is kind of fun too.

Day 17 – A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

I’ve actually sung this as a duet with someone NOT on karaoke! Jann and Jackson’s version is pretty good too.

Day 18 – A song from the year you were born

The #1 song list from my birth year is fantastic. Since I was a wee baby I think this song is appropriate. I just read the lyrics. Maybe not so appropriate. Anyway, this song ended 1974 at #23 in Canada and is written and performed by Canadian singer Andy Kim (Canada’s answer to Neil Diamond.)

Day 19 – A song that makes you think about life

Sadly, the lyrics for this song are just as relevant today as they were when they were written back in 1987. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a time in modern history where the lyrics didn’t apply. This song makes me think about how I can be better.

Day 21 – A song you like with a person’s name in the title

I was going to pick Angie by the Rolling Stones because I like that song and back at Sparrow Lake Camp we had a staffer by the name of Andy and people would go around singing “An-dy. Aaaaaaainnnn-dy” instead of Angie. Then I remembered that The Killers have a song Andy You’re a Star and I thought that was cool. But THEN, I remembered that the Magnetic Fields have this song, and while it’s only happened three times that I can remember, it has still happened.

Day 22 – A song that moves you forward

I heard this song for the first time in almost twenty years on my way to the gym one day. It was amazingly motivating.

Day 23 – A song you think everybody should listen to

I came across this song because someone posted a link to another Miley Cyrus song on Facebook (I think it was her covering Crowded House). Miley accompanies Laura from Against Me! and it gave me a new perspective on a few things.

Day 24 – A song by a band you still wish were together

I remember when Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit unseated The Smiths atop The Edge’s (102.1 CFNY out of Toronto) most influential alternative music songs of all time list never to return to the penultimate spot. I’ve since warmed up to the idea that Nirvana was at least as influential as The Smiths with respect to their impact on society (even if Cobain, Grohl, et al. did have considerable assistance in shaping a generation from the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and myriad other “grunge” bands). I’m left wondering what the legacy of both these bands would have been had Johnny Marr not quit and Kurt Cobain had not died.

Day 25 – A song you like by an artist no longer living

Ugh. Way too many choices from this category. I was having a hard time picking and then I listened to Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie do a cover of The Pogues Fairytale of New York and in the suggested videos collage at the end of the song was this one. It too is a cover. A cover as sung by someone who died this year of a song written by a guy who died last year.

Day 26 – A song that makes you want to fall in love

How about a song that made me fall in love? This is off an album that my girlfriend (now wife) and I would play on the CD player before bed back when we were in university. We just saw the Skydiggers play an intimate show not too long ago and they didn’t play this one, so here it is now.

Day 27 – A song that breaks your heart

It’s impossible to hear this song and not think of the tragedy about which it was written. Shortly after Eric Clapton’s son, Conor, fell off a balcony and died he and Will Jennings penned this song in his honour.

Day 28 – A song by an artist whose voice you love

Every show, Daniel (Danny) Greaves sings one cover song a capella. I’ve heard him do this probably around twenty times over the last twenty-five years and watched countless more renditions on YouTube, his voice hasn’t changed, and it’s fantastic. I did a cover of a cover he’s done on his own as a warm-up to a performance once and I didn’t come remotely close to recreating the experience. I haven’t seen The Watchmen play for a couple of years now but the last time I did I captured Danny covering a Graham Parker song and it was great, as it always is.

Day 29 – A song you remember from your childhood

Tomorrow from the movie Annie – This was the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. My mom took me and I remember it being the most amazing experience.

Day 30 – A song that reminds you of yourself 

First of all, I’m a big Rush fan. Plus, they’re Canadian and I’m Canadian, so that’s kind of cool. Also, it seems like my life has been one fateful sequence of events after another, guided only by the hands of fate and helped along by a couple of lucky bounces.

“Why are we here? Because we’re here. Why does it happen? Because it happens.”

~ Andrew

 

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

It is not clear to me if visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere have picked up on the themes here at Potato Chip Math but here they are:

  • Views into a (new) writer’s world
  • Community
  • Creativity & Inspiration (how people find it, what forms it takes, how to recognize it, what to do when you, the importance of it, etc)
  • Self-Improvement / Growth / Mental & Physical Health

I tend to write a lot about being a writer on this blog. It makes sense given it’s a profession that I have been working towards for some time now. However, one of the aspects of being a writer, and the art of writing in general, is that you also have to be a reader. This is one area in which I will always need improvement but it is also one in which I will take great pleasure in improving.

There are literally millions of books published year-over-year though, so how does a person even begin to choose? For me, the preference is given to people I know personally who have written books. I know what goes into bringing a novel into the world and it’s the absolute least I can do to buy one from a peer and give it a read. In doing this, I have found that my interests have shifted from some the big names I used to read to some other authors who have books or series that I find much less formulaic and mass produced.

Why is this? Well to put it simply, the stories are better.

I would encourage every reader out there to ask a writer, or a friend, or a librarian, or someone who works at a bookstore (even a big chain bookstore), or a teacher, or even that person in the coffee shop or on the bus/subway/streetcar/train reading a book you’ve never heard of for a recommendation. Some of them won’t work out, but that’s okay. Not every book is suitable for everyone. But I guarantee you that you’ll find some gems that years from now you’ll be wondering why more people don’t know about them.

With this in mind, I am going to start a new feature here at Potato Chip Math I have aptly named Have You Read Any… 

The idea is simple. Every now and then I will profile an author from whom I have read at least one book that I particularly enjoyed. Sometimes I will know the writer personally, sometimes not, but in every case, it will be someone who isn’t currently a “big name” author (e.g. you won’t find me endorsing Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and the like).

Without further ado, I present the pilot episode of Have You Read Any…

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

A.J. Aalto is a biologist, a student of criminal psychology & behaviour, an axe-throwing belly dancer, a poor Sudoku puzzler, a badge bunny, a PVP gamer, and a goofball. When not studying murder or writing dick jokes, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at life. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.

In addition to all the aforementioned characteristics, she is the author of one of my favourite series, The Marnie Baranuik Files.

Marnie is a rare dual-talented psychic with a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. Her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart, and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at her remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, she isn’t particularly eager to stick her neck out again, but her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Follow Marnie, Lord Guy Harrick “Harry” Dreppenstedt, Kill Notch, and a host of other characters as they battle ghouls, goblins, ogres, orcs, revenants, zombies, and more.

In order, here are the links:

There are also shorts that tie into but can be read independently from, the series that A.J. calls Marnie Baranuik Between the Files stories.

But that’s not all! Yes, that’s right, there’s more!

One of the principal characters in the Marnie books, Lord Guy Harrick “Harry” Dreppenstedt, a 400-year-old revenant with a propensity for fancy Olde English and some serious skills in the kitchen, has a cookbook.

Finally, A.J. has written one of hopefully many more non-Marnie books. Closet Full of Bones is a gripping psychological thriller that is next up on my reading list.

A.J. creates complex characters that invoke strong feelings in the reader as they weave their way through clever plot lines and a world built with intricate detail. My fifteen-year-old daughter is absolutely hooked on the Marnie books as much as I am and I suggest picking up a copy of Touched and beginning your journey toward Baranuik addiction as soon as you can.

~ Andrew


Are you a writer that wants to be featured on Have You Read Any… Are you a reader with a favourite author you’d like to see featured? Place the book or author link in the comments or send me an email (potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com) and I’ll put them on the list of books to pick up and read.

Please note that it is not necessary to provide me free copies of any books in exchange for a Have You Read Any… feature. I prefer printed books anyway so I’ll buy them like everyone else. Regardless of whether or not the author gets a spot on my blog, if they aren’t published with Oghma Creative Media I will be sure to leave a review.

The Kindness of Strangers

There is a lot of sadness, corruption, and hate in the world. Nations are committing genocide, North Korea has nukes and might actually be disturbed enough to use them, over a hundred First Nations communities in Canada don’t have clean drinking water, Flint Michigan, a city in the wealthiest country in the world, doesn’t have clean drinking water–and hasn’t for years–and the leader of that country is a complete and total dipshit. Terrible human, just terrible. Sad!
Fear not, my friends, for there is more to this than doom and gloom. There are good people everywhere. They may not solve the world’s problems, and they likely won’t do it on a newsworthy scale, but they will do good things and those good things will not go unnoticed. Those good things will mean the world to somebody. Somebody who needed something good to happen. Something to pick them up because they are down. Something to help them survive one more day. Something to remind them that the world is not all bad. Something that will make them smile. 
I witness, hear, or read about these occurrences on a regular basis, and occasionally I get to experience them. Two such deeds happened to bring smiles of pure joy to my children and I feel they are both worth sharing. One was planned and one was totally random, but both helped show my family that the community in which we live has some genuinely good people in it. They were small things in the grand scheme of things, but they were also big things because they showed my children that there are random good people everywhere. In both cases, I am certain these small deeds will help my children grow to be good people themselves. Better than they are now (which is pretty darned amazing.)
First up, Linda from the Temple Baptist Church. 
When my daughter started ninth grade I started driving her to a bus stop that was a little closer to her school to reduce her travel time roughly in half. Every day would take this one corner and pass the Temple Baptist Church and their sign on the corner. Every Monday the sign had a new message and over the course of the year, it became a “thing” for us. It was just a little father/daughter bonding moment that would not have seen like much to anyone else, but for us, it was a few seconds that we got to share.

As we approached her fifteenth birthday I got the idea to ask the church if they would change the sign and extend birthday greetings as a surprise to her. So, roughly a week before her birthday I found the church’s website and sent them an email.

In my message, I explained that we were not religious but every day we pass their sign and it often sparked discussion for the remainder of the drive and if they would be so kind as to change it for one day so that I could surprise my daughter for her birthday.

Linda replied to me in short order and said, of course, they would change the sign. Just like that. No questions asked (other than her name and what the message would be). I offered to make a donation to their church to thank them for their kindness and this was the response I received:

“No payment is expected. We care about you and Avery very much even though we have never met! Pleased to do this for you.”

Linda even sent me a warning email the afternoon before telling me that they had to change the sign that afternoon because the person who performs that task wasn’t going to be around early enough the next morning (we drive past it a few minutes after seven o’clock). So, I drove home from work and made up an excuse to pick up my daughter from school and I drove her home a different route instead of the route the bus would have taken, which would have seen her stopping on the corner right by the sign.

The next morning, I made up another excuse (so many lies!) about why I was recording video in the car so I could capture her reaction. Watch for yourself.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk5UBDImYD0]

I think it all went about as well as it could have (except my voice in the video. In my defense, I was a little verklempt).


Next up, Mark, a music lover in Cambridge.

One week at my son’s drum lesson I asked his teacher, Vic, how far he should get in his book before I buy him a new snare. His existing one was a little worse for wear and was held together with duct tape, but I wanted him to have to work for it. Vic told me there was one for sale in the store, used, for something like $60 and was a great deal in his opinion. 
Well, I got mired in a financial snafu with my bank and didn’t get the chance to buy the drum (figuring I would eventually spring it on Dude at the appropriate time). The next week we get to class and Vic calls me in, which is weird because I never get called in. 
He sits us down and says that word got out to the guy who bought the drum that Dude was in the market to replace his duct tape special and this guy refurbished the snare (according to Vic he must have put over $100 into it) and asked Vic to give it to Dude. All he wanted in return was a picture of Dude with the drum. 
The generous music lover’s name is Mark Parnell (possibly spelled differently) and after I texted him this photo and thanked him I asked him if he was on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter so I could give him a proper shout-out. He wrote back that he was not and that the smile on Dude’s face was all the thanks he needed. 
Thank you, Mark. You made our day, and while Dude is no Neal Peartyethe’s going to practice with that snare and enjoy it a lot more than the old one. 

BONUS GOOD DEED!

My across-the-street neighbour, Mohammed. 
One morning, I awoke to the smell of gas in the house, so I got everyone outside and called the fire department. They came and shut the gas off and aired the house out and called the gas company. My wife took the kids to get McDonald’s breakfast and I waited outside across the street.

It was early morning in October and I was standing across the street on the sidewalk in my pajamas and bare feet freezing my little piggies off and my neighbour came out of his house. Now, Mohammed and I had spoken exactly two words to each other in the six years I had lived across the street from him (we’ve said “hello” twice). He’s quiet and keeps to himself. He has a nice lawn. He knows when it’s yard waste day. I’m not very sociable with the neighbours, which at the time was partially due to the fact I had the crappiest lawn on the block and was self-conscious that my neighbours were all annoyed by it.

Anyway, Mohammed walked over to me and asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and told him that we’d be allowed back in the house soon. Nothing to worry about, etc, etc. Then, he looked down at my feet and asked, “Do you want me to get you some shoes?” No one had ever offered me shoes before. I didn’t even get a chance to respond and he pointed to my feet. “You must be cold. Let me get you some shoes.”

It turns out I didn’t need the shoes as we were let back into our house shortly thereafter, but the gesture stuck with me.


So there you have it. Three small deeds or gestures that, at a minimum, show there are at least three people where I live that are ready to do some good anytime they feel it’s needed. I, for one, couldn’t be happier because I know that in my city and the region that surrounds it, there are over half a million people and the good ones far outnumber any others.

Start looking for people performing good deeds and random acts of kindness in the places where you live, work, and play. I bet you dollars to doughnuts it won’t take you long to find them. When you do, tell me about it down in the comments so everyone can see that the good news can travel just as fast as the bad.

~ Andrew

More Music Mastery

Another one of those post-a-song-a-day things is circulating on Facebook and I thought I’d give it a go. This time the list of “challenges” looks like this:

I’ve tried to do a little write-up for each one but some days are better than others. Here are the first twelve days:

Day 1 – A song you like with a colour in the title
There are lots of songs with the colour red in them and I wanted something a little darker. Well, black is as dark as it gets! Plus, Led Zeppelin.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tlSx0jkuLM]


Day 2 – A song you like with a number in the title
21 Guns by Green Day – I like Green Day.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVaYkdG4k_I]


Day 3 – A song that reminds you of summertime
I considered this song for the upcoming Day 8 (A song about drugs or alcohol) but this song makes me think more about summer than it does about drugs. I’m not sure if it’s the imagery painted by Victoria’s lyrics or what, but this song makes me think about dry, dusty fields and hanging out on sweltering hot days with some friends

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpwupMVcLdk]


Day 4 – A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget 
I wrote a blog post (http://www.potatochipmath.com/2012/10/an-untitled-post-about-bullying.html) about some of the memories that got kicked up when I went a did a favour for an old high school acquaintance by playing a fighting street person for this video. Thankfully, I’m not a big follower of hip hop & rap (though do enjoy it on occasion) and I don’t come across this song too often

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV6QHXulcaY]


Day 5 – A song that needs to be played loud 
Oh my god, so many choices. I don’t know where to begin. Obviously, AC/DC came to mind, then Van Halen and Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses… and we have a winner. I cannot listen to Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses without having to crank the sound to eleven.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbm6GXllBiw]


Day 6 – A song that makes you want to dance
I am not known to be a dancer. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. That said, there’s one song that makes me groove every time (in as much as I am capable of grooving). The thing is, I hate the lyrics to the original and have little respect for the original artist as a musician or even a human. Fortunately for me, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody with much better lyrics but with the same musical groove. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic. Music by that dipshit Robin Thicke

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc]


Day 7 – A song to drive to
Are you kidding me?

“My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about. He says it used to be a farm, before the Motor Law.” 

This is a song about driving a well preserved red Barchetta sports car. It’s a fantastic song and perfect for driving fast on winding country roads.I love driving to this tune.

“Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware” 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eULGEKncHvI]

Day 8 – A song about drugs or alcohol 
Hmmm. Let’s see… which one of the 37 million songs about drugs or alcohol should I choose? I’m going to go with Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. Come on, this just comes right out and says it clear as day, 

“Everybody must get stoned.” 

It could not be more fitting that there’s a video of this song being sung by Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI-H_27NptM]

Day 9 – A song that makes you happy 
Say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but I love this song. I can’t help but turn it up and sing along and smile. I like the album version better overall but watching Ed do this one with just an acoustic guitar and a loop machine is pretty damn cool. Plus, seeing a bunch of kids sing this at the KW Glee boot camp this summer was awesome too 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DVLzHks8xs]

Day 10 – A song that makes you sad
There was a stretch where every time I found out about someone dying this song would play on the radio shortly thereafter. Plus, it’s a sad song. Even though it’s a song about hope and hanging on and knowing you’re not alone in your struggles, the fact is there are still so many struggling that there is, at best, one degree of separation between yourself and someone to whom this song applies. This song makes me sad, but I’ll be okay. If this song applies to you and you need someone to hold onto or just be present, give me a call. Send me a text or an email. 

“Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts.” 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlOeGeVih4]

Day 11 – A song you never get tired of
I don’t know what it is about this song that sticks with me, but something does. I think it’s probably my favourite U2 song out of their whole catalog, and for a band that’s probably one of my all-time favourties with as many songs as they have that I like that’s saying something. The fact they played it on their recent Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour this summer is even better. Like it or don’t like it, whatever your preference one thing you can say for sure it’s that it’s not a bad song #dadjoke #groan 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zIW8qDPhos]

Day 12 – A song from your preteen years 
In 1985 I was eleven years old. That qualifies as preteen, yes? Well holy shit, would you take a look at the number one songs from that year?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_1985

The list is insanely good. Easily a dozen of those songs popped into my head when I first read the category. How did I pick just one? Easy. I went with the love song from the movie that had Demi Moore in it, of course! I love the intro to this dong and even tried playing it at the piano at summer camp. I never did learn how to, but it’s a fun memory regardless. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgW9SqP3YJc]

Cover Reveal and More

As some of you may know, when my daughter and our family were going through her scoliosis journey we blogged about it. Over the course of sixteen months or so, my wife, our daughter, and I chronicled our experiences and told the story in our own words as seen through our eyes.

The blog was wildly successful and more than accomplished its goal of making this experience more visible to families out there under similar circumstances.

Once our daughter’s story was done, roughly one year post-surgery, I decided that this would make a fantastic book, so I added a bunch of backstory and some insight into what was going on in between blog posts, compiled all the posts into the book, and added a lessons learned and some Q&A and Bent But Not Broken: One Family’s Scoliosis Journey was born.

Having secured a publisher and gone through the requisite editing stages, I am pleased to announce that we have a release date for the book as well as an absolutely fantastic cover!

When does it come out? 
January 20, 2018

Where can I see the cover?
RIGHT HERE

You can also see it over at http://bentbutnotbroken.net

Other things happening

Writers often get a lot of questions about our work. It’s a good thing, and we love it when people show an interest in what we create. Some of the most common questions asked are:

  • Where can I get your book?
  • When will your book be out?
  • Are you working on another book?

I could go on, but really it’s just those three questions with the “When will your book be out?” one being asked more often than any other. It’s with this in mind I’ve created a couple pages here on my website.

The first is simply titled “Books“. On it you can find all the books I’ve written or anthologies I’ve been a part of and clicking the links will take you to a page that lists all the places those titles are available, whether it’s in print, ebook, or audiobook.

The second page is “WIP” which is pretty much a standard acronym in a number of industries that stands for “work in progress”. On it you will find all my upcoming projects with a bit of information about the work, what stage it’s at, and what the plan is for it. If there’s a cover for the book, you’ll also be able to see it here before it shows up anywhere else.

Follow me via email, RSS feed, or through Google at the handy links down the right side to make sure you don’t miss out!

Books

WIP