Tag Archives: Books

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.”

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.

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

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

Connections

I am a writer. As such, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I have even more acquaintances who are writers. On social media (mostly Facebook but also Instagram and Twitter) I would wager that my interactions with writers outnumber interactions with everyone else combined. I have a short list of non-family members that I put into the category of close friends. There are two from my university days and another three that I didn’t even know existed until I started writing, and more specifically, started participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as well like to call it, or if we’re being particularly lazy, “NaNo”.

NaNo is a challenge to writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In other words, write a novel in thirty days. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, for an entire month. It’s a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. Trust me, I know. I participated in this challenge six years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and was only successful four out of those six years.

For a number of reasons, I’m not doing NaNo this year. A friend asked me if it felt weird and I said that it did. Other than the fact I’ve done it for six years in a row now I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. I thought a bit about it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it felt weird because NaNoWriMo is a big reason that I am a writer at all.

In early 2010 I started dabbling with some writing. Not simply jotting stuff down and blogging every now and then, but writing with plot and character in mind. Well, sort of. I was blogging somewhat regularly and I had every intention of starting a big screenwriting project, at some point, some time, you know, later. But by some sheer twist of fate, it was the month of November that all that changed.

If anyone out there is a fan of the James Burke show Connections (and Connections 2 and Connections 3) you’ll see that my “path to success” goes WAY back and isn’t exactly a straight line.

That’s Why I’m on This Oil Rig a Writer

  • In 1993 I worked as a clerk at a video store before heading off to university.
  • It was that first year at university that I would have a little girlfriend trouble.
  • While that was going on, Kevin Smith was writing the movie Clerks. It is a movie about a couple dudes working as, well, clerks. One in a video store and one at a convenience store. One of the clerks has girlfriend trouble. 
  • That movie came out in 1994 and I saw it when it hit video stores in 1995. The movie changed the way I looked at films and my whole creative process and I was an immediate fan. 
  • Later that year I got back together with one of my girlfriends from back in 1993. We would get married on November 6, 1999.  
  • Fast forward to 2010. Kevin Smith had made ten movies and was a huge success and doing his Q&A sessions and multiple podcasts. My wife looks out her office window one day and sees a billboard advertising Kevin Smith coming to town just a few days before our anniversary.
  • We attend the show and have a great time and it sparked something in me. Afterwards, I came across this blogger and writer by the name of Robert Chazz Chute who wrote about his experience at the same show. In his post, he mentioned this weird thing called NaNoWriMo. I, in turn, wrote a blog post about getting off my ass and actually writing something. It was going to be a screenplay. 
  • In 2011 I started writing the screenplay and I was having a conversation with one of those close friends I mentioned earlier in the post. I was lamenting that I was having a hard time getting my story to fit into the framework of a film. He said that he didn’t want to see an Andrew Butters movie. He’d rather read an Andrew Butters book. So, I switched gears and started to write it as a novel. 
  • In November 2011, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I was there alongside Robert cranking out words and having a great time. It was on Twitter during NaNo that I met a writer by the name of Jennifer Gracen.
  • Jennifer was a NaNo cheerleader and she introduced me to a whole number of other writers and eventually she invited me into a writer’s group on Facebook. One of these individuals is now one of my other close friends, Gordon Bonnet. We joke that we are brothers from different mothers. Twins separated at birth and by more than a decade and several strands of DNA. 
  • One of the Twitter NaNo folks Jennifer introduced me to almost died due to a medical complication and there was an anthology being put together to raise money to help pay her medical bills. I wrote a piece of creative non-fiction about the unexpected death of my wife’s brother and Jennifer edited that piece for me. It was eventually accepted into the anthology and just like that, I had my first published piece. 
  • Shortly thereafter I had a photographer friend, Christine Reid, do some headshots for me. If I was going to write books I was going to need pictures for back covers, right?
  • Then, in 2014 my daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was going to require spinal fusion surgery. Since there was little information out on the web from girls and families that have gone through this, my genius wife decided that we should keep a family blog to chronicle the journey. 
  • A year post-surgery the blog was done and I decided that if I could add a bit more context to the blog posts that it would make a pretty powerful book. In October 2016 I finished Bent But Not Broken: One Family’s Scoliosis Journey
  • In January of 2017, I was talking to another writer, one to whom I was introduced at the same time as my brudder from another mudder. She suggested I talk to him about Bent. So, I did. He was beta reading the manuscript and unbeknownst to me had given it to the Editorial Board at his publisher, Oghma Creative Media. A few weeks later I had my first writing contract.
  • A couple months later, the Oghma founder was asking me for a headshot for an announcement on their Facebook page about my signing. I pointed him to the folder of headshots that my friend Christine did for me.
  • He asked me if I did any acting when inquiring about why I had headshots taken. I told him I had them done so I’d have something for a book cover one day. He said, “Oh, you’ve written other stuff?” and I told him I had a few pieces of almost completed fiction plus bits and bobs of incomplete stuff that will take shape at some point. He invited me to the publisher’s writing retreat in the summer and said we would talk.
  • I returned home in August of 2017 from my publisher’s writing retreat with two book contracts: one for a standalone psychological thriller (short novel) and one for an open-ended suspense series called The “No” Conspiracies (which will be at least five books at this point). 
  • Bent But Not Broken comes out on the third anniversary of my daughter’s surgery on January 20, 2018. 
  • Hard Truth (the short novel) comes out in September of 2018.
  • No Fixed Address: The “No” Conspiracies Book #1 comes out in March 2019.
  • No Known Cure: The “No” Conspiracies Book #2 comes out in September 2019, which currently sits at about 25,000 words. 
    • To bring this all full circle, it’s worth noting that this was the movie I started writing back in 2010 and ended up being the book I started writing during my very first NaNoWriMo back in 2011. 
    • In fact, of the seven books I have either written or have committed to writing, four of them have been NaNo projects.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of connections that brought me from A to B on this writing journey of mine. I look at the long list of events above and if you remove any one of them the chain collapses. I see all those events as the kindling and the fuel for my fire. If that’s true, then learning about NaNoWriMo was the spark. The annual challenge for writers around the globe that I found out about at just the right time because the impact that a single Kevin Smith show had on a guy named Robert which prompted him to write a blog post that I happened to read. 
Here are tonight’s three stars of the game: 
  • Kevin Smith. For writing Clerks, deciding to do a show in Kitchener of all places in 2010, and inspiring writers and filmmakers in ways that only you can do.
  • Robert Chazz Chute. For sharing your fanboiness of Kevin Smith and writing and introducing me to the world of writing (also, for that drive into Toronto to go see Kev’s movie Red State when I was suffering from post-concussion syndrome).
  • My wife. For taking a minute out of her day to look out the window and suggest that a Kevin Smith show would be a good anniversary present, and for being the bond that has held together so many of the links in my chain for nearly a quarter of a century. You’re why I’m on this oil rig, baby. Happy Anniversary!
~ Andrew

TBR Pile

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”  – Ernest Hemingway

My daughter likes to read. I mean, she REALLY likes to read. She gets it from her mother, and both sets of her grandparents. Me? I like to read; I just haven’t done as much of it in my lifetime as I should have. It’s a terrible thing I know, but it is the truth.

I grew up with two educators for parents, my father being a sports nut and my mother a gym teacher and yoga fanatic as well. I read lots of books growing up. There were some Choose Your Own Adventure, of course. I read every single one of the Gordon Korman books. I also read: A Boy at the Leafs Camp (mandated reading for any kid growing up playing hockey in Toronto); Vladislav Tretiak’s book Tretiak: The Legend; and Ken Dryden’s The Game. My favourites though were The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald.

In high school I focused on math and science, and if I’m being honest, reading all that mumbo jumbo turned me off reading in a big way. Plus, I was more interested in sports, girls, my friends, and general teenage shenanigans. Curling up with a good book wasn’t high enough on my list of priorities. That said, reading a bunch of books is unavoidable in high school. I did manage to avoid reading a lot of the usual books. Careful selection of English classes saw to that (my high school was quite large and we had ample choices of English classes).

So, my high school years weren’t filled with tons of reading for pleasure. If I did it was almost always a Stephen King book. Fast forward to university and it was all advanced calculus, computers, and applied physics. If you throw in a little bit of drinking and a fair amount of debauchery what you don’t get is too many novels piling up on the night stand.

Then I grew up, got married, bought a house, had kids, moved a few times, changed jobs a few times… and started writing. Over the last five years or so I’ve read more books than all my previous reading years combined. None of them will ever be “classics” but many were quite enjoyable to read and I’m a better writer for having read (most of) them.

I am a writer with another job that’s not writing and I also have a family and a social calendar. I will always be fighting the battle between writing, reading, and just sitting on my ass doing nothing. I yearn for a time when my entire existence isn’t one giant exercise in prioritization. In that vain, I’m left to wonder what’s the point of a TBR (To Be Read) pile? The damn thing never gets any smaller!

For every one I do read there’s ten more I want to read and ten more on top of those that I should read. I think the pile exists mainly because there’s comfort in its existence. It’s good to know that there will always be something there; always something to do; always an adventure waiting for me. All I have to do is open the cover and turn a page. Also, if there were no TBR piles then I would have less incentive to have my book sitting on top of one.

TBR:

  1. Save the Cat
     – Blake Snyder (in progress)
  2. Signal to Noise
     – Gordon Bonnet
  3. The Key to Everything
     – Alex Kimmell
  4. Bigger Than Jesus
     – Robert Chazz Chute
  5. Savage Fire
     – Ben Langhinrichs
  6. Eleven
     – Carolyn Arnold
  7. Billy Purgatory: I am the Devil Bird
     – Jesse James Freeman

~ Andrew

Size Matters

When I started writing my novel I had a grand idea that it would be at least 100,000 words. Before I had even determined the full arc I knew I wanted to write 100,000 words. It was a nice round number and as far as I could tell it would make a pretty decent length book. The problem was that as much as I wanted the 100k the more I wrote the more I discovered that it was either going to be a stretch to get it there or it would wind up being a 150,000 word marathon.

So what’s the right number? If quantifiable numbers are your thing you can look to the Smashwords article from May 2013 for a very telling answer. A book’s success can be directly tied to its sales and the average length of the top 100 books on Smashwords is a hair over 115,000 words. Of course even Smashwords says flat out that most authors would be thrilled to be in the top 500. So, if you look at their top 500 the average length is just a bit over 77,000. Double the ranking and it only drops a couple thousand words. So, if the top 100 is any measure (which it should be) you’re writing a good length novel. If you’re happy sitting in the top 1000 (which you should be) then you can probably do with 40,000 words less – almost an entire novel – and still be doing just fine. Of course, when you look at the same Smashwords data you’ll see that the top book (#1) outsells #50 by a margin of 7 to 1 and #50 outsells #500 by another 5 to 1. I’m sensing a trend here…

That same Smashwords article also had a price point comparison and it looks like FREE and 99¢ are the big winners, but $3.99 seems to be the magic number, which if you’re an indie author could mean a serious advantage over someone who’s traditionally published and has all that additional overhead – and cost – associated with their book (that, or the author is taking a serious cut when it comes to royalties).

So what about the short story? Is it doomed? The numbers seem to suggest that short stories don’t sell very well at all. To me, this seems counter-intuitive, especially in the digital age. They make perfect sense, and all for one very simple reason: time! With every device under the sun capable of displaying a book, and in today’s go-go-go world I would think that it would simply be easier to pick up an anthology or collection and read a couple short stories and then move on as opposed to having to invest hours and hours of reading chapter after chapter (and if you’re reading Dan Brown, chapter after chapter after chapter after chapter after chapter…)

My theory seems to hold especially true for short story erotica. You may be asking, how is it that people can sell erotica for $2.99 or even $3.99 for a 10,000 word short story and get away with it? That’s the same price as an average length (and commonly priced) full length 115,000 word novel! Well, in addition to the time factor the the answer also lies in re-usability. You’re not likely to re-read that 400 page novel over and over, but any time you’re in the mood for a quick… um… “break”, you’ll bust out that erotic short story quicker than a prisoner on conjugal visitation day.

Now, as the writer of a blog (a new post every Sunday here at Potato Chip Math) I’ve been long curious about the optimal length for a blog entry. Now, it seems that if you go looking for this information you’ll find almost as many answers as you find experts. One recent article I found was particularly interesting. It basically says that people value longer copy over their shorter counterparts. While I think there is definitely some truth to that statement I think that the author goes out of his way to over-simplify. At one point he simply compares length of post (greater than or less than 1500 words) to number of tweets and Facebook “likes”. The posts greater than 1500 words got more of both. The scientist in me is going absolutely crazy over this. How many other variables are in play? Too many to be able to say with any degree of certainty that this is a result you can hang your hat on.

That being said, there was one interesting statistic that it mentioned which did make me go “hmm”: Google search results. Here’s a quote directly from the article and the graph they had to support it:

The average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2000 words.

So maybe there’s something to a post or article with a bit more meat to it. As for all my posts, as I eluded to above, views to word count isn’t a direct comparison because so many other factors go into each one. Did I tweet about it more often? Did I post in a comment thread on another blog or article? Did I try to engage my audience or just pump out noise? Ding! Ding! Ding! Here’s a pro tip for you: engagement works but it takes work! Frankly, I’m okay with the traffic I am getting for the amount of work I’m putting in. I know when I try to do more with it I get more impressive results, and sometimes that’s just what I do, but I have to be realistic with my time. Blogging isn’t my full time job. Heck, it’s not even a job at all. It’s a tool and like most tools, it’s all in how you use them.

So, size does matter but the experts agree, content is king. I don’t think this should come as a surprise to content providers and creators of the world. I know I like to ask, “Aren’t people impatient; with the attention spans of small children?” The answer is generally yes, but I have found that this doesn’t hold true for people who actually like to read. Sure, we all like snazzy infographics and quick information, but people who are looking for reputable information and who want to learn and explore new things and are generally curious will usually go beyond the fold to get what the’re looking for.

At the end of it all, and as far as my novel is concerned, agents and editors will have a better sense of what changes are needed to achieve results. That’s why they do what they do and why I’ll gladly pay them to do it. What this means means for me is that I should take as many words as I need to tell the story. No more, no less.

As for this post, well, by the time it’s done there will be 1,171 words on the virtual page. I’m already curious to see how many views it gets.

~ Andrew