Steakatarian

** Originally published April 18, 2010 **
** Updated January 18, 2020 **

So when my son started eating real food he was very particular about eating meat, probably because he didn’t have his molars yet and it was very difficult to chew.  My daughter, on the other hand, has never shared those concerns.  She’ll eat steak any day of the week.  One day we were all sitting at the dinner table eating a steak dinner with steamed broccoli and potatoes and Alexander was being fussy about the meat.  Jodi puts more broccoli on his plate and comments, “Our little vegetarian.”

Upon hearing this, Avery, head buried in her plate and her elbows up and flapping like a Dodo bird looks up with a mouth full of beef and another piece on her fork and says, “Not me.  I’m a steakatarian!”   She routinely eats an 8oz of steak in a sitting and asks for more.  Daddy’s little girl.

Which brings us to…

The Top 5 Steaks I’ve Ever Eaten

Steak

Archie MacDonald52 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

It was bloody cold out last night and upon finding the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club not yet ready to welcome us inside (we were going to see a friend I played hockey with back in the day perform. Dave Hemstad. Check him out) we needed something to eat that was nearby. Not wanting pizza – the first place we found – we happened into this hoity toity place that looked like it had steak. Entirely underdressed and unprepared to spend a mortgage payment on a meal, my date for the night convinced me it would be an adventure. The freight elevator had an oriental rug in it. The meal was fancy. I did not enjoy the amuse bouche (roe and caviar on a miniature cracker-sized pancake thing with a dollop of some sort of cream thing). The bleu cheese with apple and fancy lettuce was good, though the cheese was a bit much for me (I tried it though!) I ordered a glass of Malbec (9oz, of course) and then came the steak. Good golly Miss Molly was it good (hence, the update to my Top 5 steaks list). I finished off my meal with a single serving of tarte tatin. One Million dollars and worth every penny.

Here’s the new list:

  1. The Fifth Grill & Terrace (Toronto, Ontario)
    Both my dining companion and I had the filet on a 3-course prix fixe menu and we both agreed that it was an absolutely fantastic piece of meat. He doesn’t have a Top 5 list, but I do, and this steak jumped right to the top of the list.

  2. Merlot (Ottawa, Ontario – now closed)
    Thick and juicy with a subtle onion and cheese crust on top…. absolutely perfect.

  3. Charcoal Steakhouse (Kitchener, Ontario)
    Was half way through it before I realized I was cutting it with the dull side of my butter knife.

  4. Le Papillon (Toronto, Ontario)
    Not known for their steak, but cooked perfectly, nice and tender… I licked my plate clean.

  5. Planet Fusion (Kitchener, Ontario – now closed)
    Great steak. Thick and perfectly cooked.  Wonderful flavour.  The service was the best we’ve ever had, so that may have helped too.

Rest in Peace, Professor

Here we are, again. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion of life, we have lost another great musician. The last decade has seen many greats shuffle off this mortal coil and some have hit me harder than others. This one is near the top for me, and I know it’s way up there for many others. What is it about music and musicians that have this effect on us? I think it’s because music breaks down barriers. In a world hell-bent on dividing us, it brings us together. It’s part of our every day. It’s there for the good times and bad. It makes us feel. It transcends. My wife absolutely loves music and everything about it and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.

NeilPeart

Back in September or October of 1988, I was sitting in the first-floor hallway of my high school when my friend Jeremy plopped himself down beside me. He had a Walkman and he was air drumming. He said something to the extent of, “You GOTTA listen to this.” He rewound the tape a bit and handed me the headphones. Once I had them on, he pressed play and I heard the opening chords to Limelight. By the ninth measure, the thump-da-thump of Neil Peart’s drums kicked in and I was completely hooked on RUSH not 20 seconds into the first of their songs I’d ever heard. For the next twenty years, they were my #1 band. Even today, thirty years later and a good five since they retired, I’d put them in my top three.

I can remember back in 1993 my friends and I would huddle in front of computers in the math building at the University of Waterloo and connect to The Internet. We’d hit the newsgroups and bulletin boards searching for nuggets of information to sate our fanboy desires. Some of my friends would go to alt.music.nirvana and others to alt.music.pearljam. I went to alt.music.rush and even then the internet consipirators were out in full force.

“Neil Peart has cancer. That’s why he wears that beanie on his head!”

– Early Internet Trolls

Five years later daughter died in a car crash and ten months after that he lost his wife to cancer. Twenty years after that the Early Internet Trolls’ prognostications came true, and as off base as they were back then I can imagine they, like so many of us today, are crushed by the news.

Neil was the soft-spoken one. Neil was the lyricist. The quiet brooder tapping out “YYZ” in Morse code in the studio because he saw the Toronto airport tag on his luggage (“YYZ” is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport) and liked the beat. That would later become an instrumental of the same title that was nominated for a Grammy (losing to The Police’s “Behind My Camel”).

I haven’t tested the theory yet but I am certain that there is a lyric that he’s written that maps perfectly to every moment in my life. He wrote books as well as lyrics. He made a number of instructional videos. He used his fame and recognition to bring styles of music to the masses that we would have otherwise ignored.

“He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”

Dave Grohl

If you’ve been on social media for the past 18 hours you’ve no doubt seen all the messages, condolences, and tributes come rolling in. There are a lot of them. The most well-known musicians in the world today are talking about it. That’s the type of influence Neil Peart had on not just music, but the music industry. He touched so many, myself included, and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and of course to Geddy and Alex.

There are literally thousands of lyrics to choose from to close out my thoughts but one that was penned by Neil’s bandmates seems most apt. For me, it perfectly sums up what it was like having Neil behind the drum kit and I can imagine Geddy and Alex felt much the same way.

“You can take me for a little while
You can take me
You can make me smile
In the end”

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

…in bed.

My brother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. I stuffed it somewhere “handy” and forgot about it until recently. In an effort to keep words flowing and provide some nifty blog content for my new and improved website, I thought I’d tackle all 642 writing prompts and see what happens.

From the looks of things, there are anywhere from 1 to 5 prompts on each page and the ones on each page are somewhat related. If I were to do one prompt a day we’d be here for almost two years, which is fine by me but also seems a smidgen ambitious. It might also make for some really short posts, which also might not be a bad thing, but I also feel like there needs to be a bit more on the page before I hit publish. So, one page of prompts per post regardless of how many are on the page. I won’t do one every day and I can’t even promise one a week, but I will try to do them with some regularity.

Prompt #1

“Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong.”

  • Everything will go exactly as planned (in bed)

Prompt #2

“Write last year’s fortune cookie. It got everything right.”

  • You will be in awe of the resiliency and accomplishments of your family and friends and grateful to have them in your life (in bed)
Ksayer1 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Eight Sunsets, Four Books, and One Novella

I just finished my annual vacation at the cottage on Wasaga Beach, Ontario. I’ve been spending parts of the summer there since I was born a mere 45 years ago so there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes along with vacationing there. The cottage is where I spent a couple weeks recuperating from my concussion back in 2011. The cottage is for rest. There are very few timelines, no alarm clocks, the best sunsets in the world, and myriad opportunities to do two-fifths of sweet jack squat.

Lately, I’ve decided that I would benefit from writing fewer and reading more, words. I’m wrapping up my fifth book, the third one in a series for which the first should come out sometime in 2021 and instead of finishing it while on vacation I made the call to put the laptop away and do nothing but relax and read books. I read four books and one novella in the eight days I was on the beach and I’ll try my best to provide a short review of each.

Oh, one more thing. My grandfather (who built the original cabin with my great-grandfather back in 1938) worked a good chunk of his life for Kodak and was absolutely obsessed with taking pictures of the sunsets at Wasaga Beach. He’d convert his negatives into slides and keep them all for posterity. My mom has several thousand slides in storage and I bet if we were to count half of them would be sunsets. I have continued with this tradition and rarely miss an opportunity to capture one. This year Mother Nature blessed us with a record-setting (for me, anyway) eight sunsets in a row!

Sunset Day 1 – My son and his friend enjoying the waves

I started off by reading the novella, The Tudor Plot, included at the end of the Steve Berry book The King’s Deception.

The story takes place seven years prior to the novel that precedes it and it’s typical Cotton Mallone story. Berry is my favourite writer to bring with me on vacation. His books are somewhat formulaic but tend to be well written and tend to be easy to digest. The Tudor Plot was no exception. I wasn’t a huge fan of the number of characters he introduced but didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight either. I can’t say I would have paid for an ebook version of just that novella, but it was a nice bonus on the end of a 400-page novel.

Sunset Day 2
Sunset Day 3

Next up was Poured Out Like Water by Ava Norwood. I’ve read another Norwood book, If I Make My Bed In Hell and while neither are happy-go-lucky rainbows and kittens novels, they are compelling stories that are incredibly well written.

I’m not sure I can adequately review the book without giving away any spoilers but I will say that it had very realistic characters and the plot kept me turning the pages. As I eluded to, this is a heavy read with lots of emotional conflicts, but it’s worth your time to read it. The climax will shock you and the conclusion will leave you satisfied and heading to Amazon to see what else Ava Norwood has to offer.

Sunset Day 4
Sunset Day 5

Next up were a couple of books from a friend of mine, Robert Chazz Chute. He writes apocalyptic fiction, among other things, and I had the pleasure of reading the first book in two different series (thanks, Robert. Now I have to buy the rest of them). First up was AFTER Life: Inferno (The NEXT Apocalypse Book 1)



This book takes place in Toronto, Ontario in the bowels of the highest level bio-engineering and virology building in the country. We follow a special squadron of police who are responding to a threat from inside. It’s a gripping start to the series and you’ll find yourself breathing more shallow and sweating along with the main character. It’s not an extremely long book, but after reading it I can say that it was the perfect length. There were no dull spots and it was very well put together. As with all things Chute, look for some well-placed humour to keep a smile on your face.

Next up was the first book in the Robot Planet Series, Machines Dream of Metal Gods.

This book takes a stab at a world where AI has taken over. Part Maximum Overdrive, part Terminator, part Hunger Games, there is a considerable amount of setup to this story, but the payoff in the second half of the book is well worth it. I don’t normally gravitate to sci-fi but I gotta be honest and say that I could get into this series.

Sunset Day 6
Sunset Day 7

To round out the vacation I picked up four books from the $1 table at a local store, with the proceeds going to a charity house in neighbouring Collingwood. One of them was The Collectors by David Baldacci.

I’ve heard his name before and recognize him as a New York Times best-selling author, but haven’t read any of his work before. I expected something similar to what I get when I pick up a Steve Berry book, meaning I figured it would be a good “airport read” or something suitable for the beach.

I was correct. There’s a definite style similarity to Berry and the plot was a textbook suspense/thriller. That said, I enjoyed it. It’s a tale of two stories that are actually woven into one, with a rich collection of characters to keep you interested and no shortage of action to keep you turning pages. I would have liked some section breaks when the point of view or timeline changed, but I won’t fault the author for that since an extra line instead of a “* * *” was the publisher’s choice in most cases (sometimes a proper section break was used, but other times it was not). As it was it was easy enough to follow along because this wasn’t Baldacci’s first rodeo and he knows what he’s doing. I’d be surprised if this book has won any awards, but it was a decent read and I’m glad I read it.

There you have it, the end of my vacation reading list. Granted, it’s not nearly as impressive as President Obama’s summer reads, but reading is reading and that’s all that matters. You know what they say, “Leaders are readers,” (which is more than you can say about the illiterate dumpster fire moron currently occupying the White House).

Thanks for reading. If you’re looking for some books I have a couple that you might like. Check ’em out on my books page.

Sunset Day 8

~ Andrew

Margaret E. Atwood Followed You

On November 14, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled Brick Walls, New Beginnings. In it, I wrote about Randy Pausch’s last lecture and inspiration from seeing Kevin Smith at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square. That was eight and a half years ago and recently I was at the Centre in the Square again, only this time I wasn’t there to see a foul-mouthed filmmaker for whom I have a giant man-crush. This time I was there to see award-winning, critically acclaimed, world-renowned author and Canadian icon, Margaret Atwood.

I’m going to be 100% honest here and say that I’ve tried to read a number of her novels and have had a hard time with them. She’s one hell of a writer, to be sure, but something about the books I picked up didn’t resonate with me. Then, there’s the Handmaid’s Tale. That one positively shook me (seriously, you have to read that book). I am also a huge fan of all the editorials and articles she’s written over the years, as well as her comic.

As a Canadian, a writer, an unabashed liberal, and an aspiring feminist, I could not pass up the opportunity to hear Ms. Atwood speak. I asked my 16-year-old daughter, who is also all those things (except she’s an actual feminist and helping me on my journey toward being one as well) if she wanted to go with me and her response in the affirmative came in the snap of a finger. The stage was set.

Waiting for Atwood.

How much was I looking forward to this? Time for a little backstory:

In 2012 I followed a boatload of accounts on Twitter. Of them, well over a hundred were writers. One day I noticed that only three of them didn’t follow me back: Amber Naslund, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood. In an effort to coerce the three non-following amigos to follow me on Twitter I sent out this tweet:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
And wouldn’t you know it, within minutes this notification popped up on my phone:

I am suddenly very aware of all the words I plan to use on Twitter.”

Suffice it to say, I lost my mind. The fact that she hasn’t unfollowed me since then is somewhat of a miracle.

(If you’re reading this, Margaret, please don’t unfollow me)

So, how did it go?

I’m actually having a hard time describing it because it was just that fantastic. Atwood’s sense of humour is razor sharp. The interviewer kept having to bring her back to the topic because she would run off on these wonderfully humourous tangents. Another thing that became apparent rather quickly, and it should be pointed out that this should be obvious to anyone who’s ever even heard of her, is that Margaret Atwood is one hell of a storyteller. Wow. I mean, just wow. It was absolutely amazing.

She’s also one of the most quotable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing speak. I was going to write them all down so I could tweet them or post them as captions on photos for Instagram, but there were too many.

Diaene Vernile (left) talks with Margaret Atwood

She talked about growing up in Quebec without any of the big city conveniences that were starting to take hold. There was a lot of talk about how she became a writer and her influences. Talk eventually turned to the Handmaid’s Tale and what was going on around her when she wrote it. Here’s an interesting bit of information. Everything that happened in that book has actually happened at some time or place in human history. Everything. And if that’s not enough to rock you to your core I don’t know what is.

The thing about the whole evening was I learned as much about Margaret Atwood, the Canadian literary hero, as I did about myself, the struggling-to-make-it part-time writer, husband, and father of two.

I wish I could have recorded the entire session because I certainly would have been going back to it time after time to pick out those truly wonderful nuggets of inspiration or those key lessons about writing, which she didn’t hit you over the head with but rather sprinkled in here and there so only those paying attention noticed them. As it was, there were two takeaways that I am prepared to share:

  1. She wrote her first book when she was 7. It was about an ant, and in her words (mostly, I think I remembered them correctly), “Nothing happened until the fourth quarter! As an egg, an ant does nothing. As a larva, an ant does nothing but eat and sleep. As a pupa, an ant does nothing. The only reason to keep turning pages was to find out if anything ever happens. I tell people, if you’re writing a murder mystery, move up the corpse! People need to know about the dead body, or if there even is one, sooner than later.”
  2. Work with what you’ve got and never give up. She grew up without electricity in the middle of a remote area of Quebec. There were books though, so she read them. There were pencils and paper, so she wrote. Her first novel, still to this day unpublished, was handwritten (because at that time she didn’t know how to type) on blank exam booklets from the university where she was studying. “It just happened to work out that every chapter was exactly as long as one of those booklets.” 

So, there you have it. A taste of what I experienced Thursday night. To share that moment with my daughter was indescribable and I will cherish the memory of it for the rest of my life. What it’s also done is strengthened my resolve with respect to learning my craft. I have a story idea for something Margaret Atwood-ish. It’s more a cross between 1984, Farenheight 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Asimov’s essay The Last Question, but the point is I am not ready to write it yet. I need to learn more, work harder, and make a metric tonne more mistakes before I can tackle it.

So I will.

~ Andrew

Hard Truth – Stephen

Another excerpt from my first fiction novel, Hard Truth. Available now from Amazon (.com or .ca), Barnes & NobleIndigoWalmartiTunes, and Google Play

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don’t wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon and stay ahead of the curve!

Stephen was a short man with thin shoulders, pointy elbows, and a ferocious comb-over. He sat in a leather guest chair and picked at his cuticles. He suspected the chair alone cost more than one of his mortgage payments. The monstrosity looked like it would swallow him at any second and his knee bounced up and down in quick staccato pulses. His business partner, Thomas, if you could call him that, was on the phone with someone who, based on the end of the conversation he could hear, was not his wife.

“Listen, babe, I’m going to have to call you back, all right?” There was a pause and then a high-pitched squeal. Thomas moved the receiver away from his ear and when the squealing subsided but the phone back in the crook of his neck. “Listen, babe… babe… babe, listen.”

His voice rose with each syllable. He pressed the mute button and muttered expletives directed at no one in particular. Stephen folded his hands in his lap and looked over his right shoulder out at the vast expanse of New York City. He tried to envision what the home of the mistress of a wealthy businessman looked like.

Unmute. “No, I’m sorry I raised my voice, it’s just that I have a client here and it’s important…” Pause. “No, you’re important too. It’s just that…” Pause. “I understand.” Pause. “I love you too, babe. I’ll be over after I hit the gym so you can get all sweaty and wet after I get all sweaty and wet.” Thomas hung up his phone, raised both his hands palms up, and shrugged. “Chicks, eh?”

“Yeah, I hate it when they get all up in my grill like that,” Stephen deadpanned.

Laughter echoed off the windows of the large corner office. “Did you seriously just say ‘get up in my grill’?”

“It’s urban. I can be urban.”

“No, Stephen. No, you can’t be urban. You’re about as urban as John Deere. You’re a wet noodle, man, but that’s okay. You’ve got a great idea and we’re going to make a green and yellow truck full of money together. Then we’ll get you a protein shake, a gym membership, and a high-priced whore. You’ll look and feel like a million bucks!”

“Only a million?”

“Now that’s the fucking spirit, Steve-O! Smack the table and yell it.”

He shrank into the chair. “What?”

Thomas slammed both of his hands down on the mahogany desk. “Only a million?” He brought his hands down onto the hard surface again, this time with a loud smack that shook the Tiffany lamp and elicited a flinch from Stephen. “Only a million? Come on, do it, Steve. Show me what you’re made of!”

Stephen reached out and smacked his palms down on the hard surface. “Only a million?” He sat back a concerned look as he stared down at his palms.

“Don’t worry, buddy, the cleaning ladies do a great job here. The best job. Now look here at the contracts and tell me what you think.”

Painting Pictures With Words

This is a new thing for me. What I mean when I say a “new thing” is writing a blog post without using any inline images. Normally, I will break up a post here and there with either an image or a video or possibly some text formatting in order to give the piece a bit of shape.

Not today.

I’m taking a bit of risk with this. I get some fairly decent traffic, but it’s still not enough to make a living on, so the desire for me to pretty this up with flashy images is high. I’m a writer, though, and pictures, for the most part, are not part of my standard operating procedures.

There’s the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and it’s true. In fact, in 2011 I started a project where I would post a picture and people would submit a 100-word paragraph to me about it and I would stitch ten of them together to make a thousand-word essay about it. It was a cool exercise and it helped me get a sense of what words come to people’s minds when they see an image. I found this quite relevant seeing that, as a writer, I’m responsible for performing that same act—only in reverse.

It’s not an easy task.

Certainly, there are other ways to consume the written word besides reading them. There are many folks who enjoy audiobooks, many more still who listen to podcasts (which are just people speaking words), and there are even those who use braille, which for me represents the holy grail of users who provide feedback. You see, the world is dominated by the sighted. Just about every interaction we have involves a visual component. We even use phrases like, “See it in your mind.” Well, what about those who have never seen anything? How would my work resonate with them? Would it resonate at all?

I don’t have any of my work translated into braille (that I am aware of) but I would like to see how that works out one of these days. For now, I’ve decided that a decent half-measure would be to write a post and keep it as simple as I can. Words and characters as they would appear in a novel, with paragraph breaks and sentence length—and strategically placed em dashes—my only tools for altering the visual structure of the piece.

How’m I doing?

A common problem with many writers both new and old… er… experienced, is purple prose. It’s also often referred to as “flowery”. When trying to paint a picture for the reader it’s easy to slip into the habit of tossing in descriptor after descriptor like rice at a wedding (or rice and toast when seeing a performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show).

“The woman glided across the sparkling marble floor, silently, on shimmering blue satin slippers as the brilliant midday sun shone through the only stain glass window in an otherwise gilded ceiling, which reflected the sunlight and sent it dancing throughout the room.”

That might not be the best example, but you get the idea. When you try to dress up your text with a few fancy words, more than a few commas and end up telling the reader more things than you’re showing them then you’ve got an issue. It’s a constant struggle and when I am writing a novel it’s always at the forefront of my mind. If I were to re-write that previous paragraph I’d go with something like this:

“The woman’s slight frame combined with her satin slippers on the marble floor allowed her to move without sound. The midday sun shone through the stained glass window in the ceiling and it warmed her face. There were few shadows but that didn’t mean there weren’t places to hide. She tilted her head using small movements to improve her chances of picking up the sound of anyone lurking unseen in the nooks and crannies of the vast cathedral.”

I think that’s much better. Certainly not award-winning narrative, but you can see the difference, yes? In the second paragraph, we’ve learned much more about the character and the story than in the first one. She’s moving without sound on purpose. We know she’s in a church. We know it’s a bright, sunny day. I don’t know about you but I want to know more. Why is she walking quietly in a seemingly empty cathedral, but concerned that it isn’t empty, in the middle of the day? There’s more to this story and hopefully, it’s written in such a way that the reader will want to find out more.

Question:
If they each were the opening paragraph of a book, which one would you be more likely to continue to read? (And no, there isn’t a third choice of “neither”).

The job I’ve committed to is putting together collections of words that don’t paint a picture for the reader but help them paint the picture with me as we move through the piece together. If I feed them too much description then I’m stifling their imagination. I give this advice to other writers about writing sex into non-romance books: Less is more. If you give someone enough to get the idea of what’s happening their mind will fill in the blanks better than any of your words will be able to. But, sex sells, right? Sure it does, but that doesn’t mean you need to spill all the dirty details in order for it to be effective. It doesn’t take much to go from engaging to gratuitous and when that happens you risk losing your reader.

So, it’s a delicate balance that the writer must strike when they sit down at the keyboard and start their journey. I have got to tell you, though, when it works, when you get in that zone and you can close your eyes and let the visions in your head flow through your hands onto the page, there are precious few feelings as good. It’s in those moments you’re most likely to have painted a picture with your words and brought something into the world, not just for people to read, but for people to experience.


Links:

Patreon Video Greeting and WIP Excerpt

Greetings and Salutations

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

You can get excerpts like the one below, blog posts, lyrics, and videos like the one above over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don’t wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon!


Sometime in 2020 the first book in The “No” Conspiracies series, No Fixed Address, will hit the shelves. Here’s your first look at the antagonist, Peter. Take note that this is an UNEDITED excerpt and may end up looking quite different after it goes through my editing team.


I am the only person in Dallas who has ever had this phone number. My dad pulled some strings for me when I moved here and he ensured that it had never before been in use. He also pays the bill. The only time it rings it when he calls me every Wednesday evening at seven PM.

The ring sounds like someone has let loose a compendium of three-year-olds with wooden spoons banging every pot and pan in the house. It is deafening. In the three years I have lived here, I have not been able to figure out how to turn down the volume and I am too lazy to replace the phone with something less obnoxious.

I am awakened from a deep dreamless sleep to the cookware cacophony that is my telephone. With my heart pounding like a bass drum in my chest at one hundred and eighty beats per minute my arm shoots out and knocks over my stack of bedtime reading comic books. Until that moment it was topped with my black hardcover engineering notebook. It makes a nice thwack as it slaps against the wall and slams to the floor.

I glance at the clock. Three PM. Four hours of sleep after writing code for the previous twenty does not feel like enough. I find and answer the phone without so much as clearing my throat.

“Hello?”

“Pete!”

The enthusiastic, high pitched squeal of my boss hits me like a steak knife on a stoneware plate. You have got to be fucking kidding me.

“Peter?”

At least the useless peon is correcting how he addresses me now. I am not a fan of short forms or nicknames. I empty my lungs with a long sigh. I cannot resist getting a quick dig in. The man loves to be called Rich.

“Yes, Richard?”

Incoherent mumbles come through the phone’s plastic receiver. Is he laughing? Heh. I hope he does not think I am being playful. The fact that an asshole as dim as a 4 Watt bulb is working that job never ceases to amaze me. The fact that he is an insufferable brownnoser makes it worse. The fact that I have to report into him makes me want to shove a Costco-sized bundle of sharpened number two pencils up his ass. Yes sir, one hundred and forty-four miniature graphite enemas coming right up. I should write that into the computer game I am working on.

“Pete—Sorry—Peter, are you there? We have a bit of a situation here. We need some WLCs to fill in for an Overnighter.”

WLC stands for Weekend and Leave Coverage; the Overnighters are the group that works the eleven P.M. to seven A.M. shift.

“How is this a situation? Our job is to cover off other people’s shifts. Why does it need to be me? Not interested”

“You’ve been specifically requested.”

“By whom?”

“You know how the hierarchical game is played, Peter. That’s not the direction this type of stuff flows.”

Richard is incapable of pronouncing hierarchical. Every time he tries, it comes out sounding like the name of some science fiction villain. Hire-arch-eee-cal. He uses big ten-dollar words all the time to make him sound managerial and important.

“I am intimately familiar with the office pyramid of accountability. How long are we talking?” Shit, I should not have asked that. Now I am negotiating. Never negotiate with terrorists or idiot supervisors. I look to my floor for my notebook, find it within an arm’s reach, and grab it.

“Well here’s the thing, it’s for the foreseeable future. Between you and me, it’s likely going to be permanent.”

I open my notebook with one hand and catch the pencil as it falls out from between the pages. “I am still not interested, Richard. I am not real keen on busting my ass as a full-timer and not getting any of the other benefits that come along with it.”

I am still not fully awake and my pencil leaves shaky scribbles of numbers on the page already cluttered with the last set of algorithms I am working on for a special assignment.

“You should be excited, Peter! Y’all are coming off weekends and leave.”

My grip on the handset tightens. The fake excitement in his voice makes me want to set my phaser a degree or two past stun and fire off a shot right at his throat. “You said ‘y’all’, Richard. Who is ‘y’all’?”


Thanks for reading!

~ Andrew

Opening From No Fixed Address

Sometime in 2020 the first book in The “No” Conspiracies series, No Fixed Address, will hit the shelves. Here’s your first look at it. Take note that this is an UNEDITED excerpt and may end up looking quite different after it goes through my editing team.

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don’t wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon!

The table in this exam room is gray. The countertop is gray. There is a thin slice of scratchy gray paper between my butt and a cushioned if you could even call it that, gray table. Heck, there is even a gray paper towel dispenser dispensing gray paper towels.
Everything on the counter is perfectly aligned except for the biohazard box. All the jars with gray lids filled with cotton balls, long sticks with cotton on the tips, and tongue depressors are lined up with their sides touching and lettering exactly parallel to the edge of the counter. The bright red biohazard box with that funky symbol on it, however, is skewed to the left facing away from the others. It’s probably embarrassed. Everything inside it is sickly, or dirty, or lethal to anyone who comes in contact with it. I’d be embarrassed too if I was a walking death sentence, which for all I know I am.
I clench my fists and shove them under my legs to help stifle the urge to straighten it and instead focus on the mystery breeze blowing on my bare ass from an as yet undiscovered vent. I complain about the open-at-the-back gowns every trip I make to a clinic or hospital. Doesn’t everyone? Of course, what is the alternative? Open at the front? Ugh. 
A young doctor enters through the gray door. Stereotypical white lab coat? Check. Stethoscope hanging around her neck? Check. Friendly but detached expression trying to convey concern the same way you see a television doctor saving lives 60 minutes at a time, minus the commercials? Double check. 
I stifle a laugh-cough, but all it does is sound like I’m suppressing a belch. She directs her attention to her clipboard and flips to the second page and then back to the first.
“Good morning Mister…Um… Mister…” 
I’m not baling her out. She is on her own. She hasn’t bothered to update her office with a computer so the least she can do is put in a little effort to learn my name. Even if it is a pseudonym. If I didn’t think I was dying I’d get up and leave. 
“Mr. Phillips. Right. Mr. Phillips. Hey, there’s a doctor named Phillips on that TV show.” 
“He’s my cousin.” 
The Luddite doctor cackles and it sounds like my kindergarten teacher on the army base where I grew up. I wonder whatever happened to her. She has likely passed on. Cause of death: Got too close to the biohazard box at her last check-up. 
“My name is Doctor Jordan. What seems to be the trouble today?”
“I’ve got what appears to be a growth on my shoulder. It’s probably cancer. I’d like you to take a look and refer me to someone who can remove it.” 
“Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. Phillips. Take the top part of your gown off and we’ll have a look-see. Where on your shoulder is it?” 
“Just around back near the top of the scapula is a gnarly looking brown lump. Asymmetrical, multi-colored, raised. Nasty looking.” 
“Hmm. Well, it definitely looks suspect. Let’s book you for a consult with a dermatologist.” 
“Can’t I just make an appointment to have it lanced, or scooped out with a grapefruit spoon or something and then sent for a biopsy? Wouldn’t the most efficient path be to just lop it off and be done with it?” 
“It’s not about efficiency, Mr. Phillips, it’s about your overall health and wellbeing. We don’t want to be any more invasive than we need to be. We’ll have an expert take a look and we’ll go from there, okay?” 
“Listen, one way or another, this thing is being cut out. I was going to do it myself but I thought it’d be worth the trip to see if you could recommend something less drastic than a fifth of Jack Daniels and my hunting knife.” 
“Do you often have the urge to cut yourself, Mr. Phillips?”
“No, I only have the urge to cut myself when I notice an abnormal growth sticking out of my shoulder!”

Thanks for reading!

Hard Truth Opening Chapter

This is the opening to my first fiction novel, Hard Truth. Available now from Amazon (.com or .ca), Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Walmart, iTunes, and Google Play

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don’t wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon and stay ahead of the curve!

Monday, July 10, 11:30 a.m.       

Thomas held his sleeping mother’s hand as she lay motionless in her fancy medical bed. Her face wore an expression of pain and discomfort. Even with the oxygen mask, she had difficulty.
The nurse was singing a song and folding laundry. Sandra was putting a perfectly folded fitted sheet onto a pile of flat sheets and pillowcases forming on top of the dresser.
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” Thomas offered.
“That’s very generous of you, sir, but it’s not necessary. Go to the office or go buy your wife something pretty, I’m sure she’ll appreciate that,” Sandra suggested.
“Yes, I’m sure she would, but I want to spend some time with my mother during the day for a change. How’s she doing today, anyway?”
“Not great, but you know she’s been having ups and downs for a while now.”
“I should have expected a downturn. She had a couple good days in a row and it was probably too much for her to put together one more. Go home.”
“Are you quite sure?”
“Yeah, I’ll be staying here for the remainder of the day and at least until Mrs. Van Steen or Brittany get back.”
“As you wish. I’ll just finish with this laundry and then be on my way.”
“Sounds good. I’m just going to hop in the shower. If I’m not out by the time you’re done, just let yourself out and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
He retreated to his washroom to clean up and throw on some casual clothes. It wasn’t often he got to wear jeans on a Tuesday. When he came out of his bedroom dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of well-worn Levi’s 501s, the nurse was gone. There was a basket of perfectly folded laundry on the coffee table with a note that read, “She didn’t eat much breakfast so she might be hungry. There’s soup in the fridge. Thank you! Sandra.”
Thomas took the note and threw it in the garbage and checked the fridge. There was a bowl of soup with a plastic lid and another note on top that read, “For Mother.”
Thomas checked his watch and saw that it was just about time for lunch so he pulled the soup out of the fridge and microwaved it for a few minutes, which turned out to be entirely too long, as the bowl was too hot to the touch when it was done being nuked. He grabbed a dish towel from the handle of the oven door and wrapped his hands around the bowl before shuffling back the way he came with extreme caution. He didn’t spill a drop. 
He walked like a tightrope performer around the corner and into the room, nudging the door open with his knee. She didn’t budge as he fumbled his way to her side, ensuring he took a wide berth around her bed to avoid a hot soup disaster. Setting the bowl down on the nightstand and pulling up the rocking chair, he sat down, closed his eyes, and rocked himself for a few seconds. The quiet was nice.
The cell phone in his pocket rang with the chorus to Sweet Caroline blasting through the faded denim. He jumped up to silence the phone and his knee caught the edge of the nightstand and knocked a glop of soup onto the hardcover copy of Dickens as well as the alarm clock. He pressed the answer button on his phone as he reached to the floor where he dropped the dishtowel after delivering the soup.
“What?” he whispered.
“Thomas? It’s Roger from Doodlepants Toys and Collectibles. I have some news about your costs.”
“Yeah, it’s me. Just dealing with a, uh, situation here.” Thomas wiped the soup off the book. “Lay it on me, how bad is it?”
“It’s bad. After your up-front capital costs for basic materials and transportation…”
Thomas flinched and bumped the bowl of soup as he was trying to clean up his mess and sent more spilling onto the alarm clock, table, and floor.
“God damn it. Go on, but hurry it up. My situation got worse.”
“Want me to call you back?”
“No, I need to know now.”
“Well, after the up-front capital costs for basic materials and transportation it’s going to cost at least three times what you budgeted for the manufacturing and distribution.”
“What? Did you say three times?”
“At least.”
“Jesus Christ. What the hell happened?”
“An earthquake. It damaged the manufacturing plant. No casualties, but no production for a while either.”
“Son of a—”
“Listen, if there’s any way to get out of that contract I’d find it. You’ll be lucky to make a third of what you were hoping.”
“Fuck.”
He ended the call, slumped down in the antique rocker, put his head in his hands, and rubbed his forehead. The flashing blue light on his phone caught his attention and the little envelope icon indicated he had a voicemail. He dialed and wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder to listen to the message. As he leaned forward to mop up the soup, his hand pressed a button on the alarm clock and the radio started blasting.
“For the love of—”  He scrambled to unplug the alarm clock as he listened.
“Thomas, it’s Stephen. I’m still waiting for the contract. I thought Jenny was supposed to make copies and fax them over before she left the office. Get me back with the status ASAP. I’ll be in class so send a text or leave a message.”
He looked down at his sleeping mother with a big grin on his face. “She hasn’t faxed it.” His hand found a cord behind the night side table. He gave it a yank and his mother’s ventilator started beeping loudly. “For fuck’s sake.” She stirred in the bed and he reached down and yanked the plug out of the wall for the clock and fished around for the cord to her machine. Soup was everywhere. His fingers found his target and he felt his way down the wall until they touched a wall plate. After two tries the machine’s quiet hum and her labored breathing were the only sounds in the room. He checked his watch and calculated twenty minutes to get to the office—if traffic cooperated. He kissed his mother on the forehead and bolted out the door.
He waited only a minute for the elevator to arrive and in that time he left a voice mail for Jenny to not fax the contract. The elevator doors opened as he cursed Jenny for not being in the office or answering her cell phone. He stepped in and pushed the button for the lobby, the last floor for his elevator, and cursed the design of the building for having a separate elevator to take you to the parking level
He hammered on the door close button in false belief that this would result in the doors taking less time to shut. The automated voiced announced he was passing the ninth floor, the lights turned off and the elevator came to an abrupt stop. There was a moment of total darkness before the emergency light came on. “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” He slammed an open hand against the elevator wall. “Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck fucking fuck!” He pushed the emergency call button and nothing happened. There was no beep or buzz or ringing or any indication at all that it was working.
He turned on the security monitors in the elevator and cycled through the floors until the image on the black and white monitor showed the lobby. It was a wide shot of the foyer with the security desk in the corner and Mitch out around the other side gyrating and twitching like he was having a seizure.
“Answer the call button, you worthless idiot.”
He pressed the audio button and the blues-driven sounds of Keith Richards’s guitar penetrated the steel box. The sound had a distinct echo, as if it were broadcasting out of a giant tin can, or say a small metal box eight-and-a-half floors above ground.
“Screw you, Mitch. You’re a terrible Mick Jagger.”
Mitch ran to the other side of the desk and picked up the security phone, and Thomas, watching and listening to the conversation, tried something different.
Thomas took out his cell phone and checked for a signal and was immediately disappointed. There was no cell coverage and he was out of Wi-Fi range for his unit or anyone else’s. On top of that, his battery was sitting at less than ten percent.
“Shit.”
He closed his eyes and fought to remember if he plugged mother’s machine back into the proper socket—the one hooked up to the backup power. He was so angry and flustered that he couldn’t visualize where his hand was on the wall. Normally the alarm clock plugged into the regular socket so it would have been easy to tell, but with the phone call and the soup debacle, both were unplugged. He furrowed his brow, squeezed his eyes closed more tightly, and rubbed his temples. Even plugged into the wrong socket the battery backup would last about half an hour.
He started to hyperventilate and his chest became tight. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead and he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He checked his watch and his hand shook as he looked at the time. It was 12:02.

Mother had twenty-eight minutes to live.