Well, another year has gone by and the website's Blogs now go back three years. Tempus fugit and all that... Some wisely pointed out that the archived Blogs are much easier to wade through if they're are arranged chronologically from top to bottom, so I've done that for this one. One of these days I'll do the rest, but as you can imagine, it's pretty mind-numbing work and I already have enough of that in my everyday life.
January 18, 2004: I've noticed that the site is no longer listed on a lot of the search engines which is very odd. In looking at what's different and may have caused their web crawlers to crawl right on by, I came up with the fact that when I redesigned the site, I used mostly cascading style sheets and floating boxes. (If you don't speak web geek, don't worry. I hardly understand this bafflegab myself!) So today I decided to go back to plain old text boxes to see what will happen. Problem is, I won't know for a couple of months as the crawlers make their rounds through the web.
I'm up to my eyeballs with recipes for the cookbook I'm putting together with my co-editor, Norah McClintock. Even though I have a pretty good idea how to do what needs to be done and keep my sanity at the same time, it's still a daunting task. Everything has been going so well in fact that I'm beginning to worry about when something will inevitably go horribly wrong, as it always does. There will be a page dedicated to the development of this project as soon as I have time to put it together.
I'm going to close with something more sombre than usual. This week I lost a good friend (and the coeditor of the Crime Writers first cookbook), John North. John made his mark as the long-time mystery review columnist for the Toronto Star. I got to know John quite well over the years even before collaborating on the cookbook. That just cemented our relationship. Bluntness was his specialty as far as many were concerned, and you could always count on John to have a ready pin handy when someone needed deflating, but he was really warm and caring underneath his carefully constructed curmudgeonly exterior. He reviewed Shooting Straight for Quill & Quire magazine when it came out, and as usual, he told it like he saw it. He said nice things and he talked about the things he didn't like, but when I got to the end of reading it, I knew that I'd been treated fairly. When I spoke with him a month or two later (Actually, it was about doing the CWC cookbook: Was I interested in signing on for another go-round?), he was very concerned that I might be mad at him for not giving me an unqualified great review. After all, he was a friend. I told him that I got what I expected: an honest reading, and I would have expected nothing else from him -- even if I didn't agree with several of his points!. Sadly, when things were getting underway for the new project, John called to say that he would have to bow out because of his health. Norah, bless her heart, jumped right in and we're having a great time. But when that cookbook comes off the press, it's still going to have a large chunk of John in it. I miss him a lot.
February 14, 2004: The 2004 Blog is now set up (you're looking at it!) and since it's the beginning of the year, it's a little thin. If I'm a good correspondent, then things will look a lot better soon. This entry is going to be a little different than the usual. Yes, I am beavering away at the cookbook, and I hope to have some positive news to post on the state of Cemetery of the Nameless, but this time out I want to talk about something that's been bugging me for a long time. With the release of the current Lord of the Rings movie, it sort of bubbled over. If you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear from you. I'll either post your responses here or maybe even create a page for them if the situation warrants it.
Here goes with my rant: how many of you have ever remember seeing a movie that has no music in the soundtrack? Come on now; put up your hands. I thought so. Can you imagine what a movie would be like without any music? The thing that really drove this home to me -- even though I've been ventilating about this for years -- is the Lord of the Rings movies. The music Howard Shore has composed is really quite wonderful and adds so much to the total experience of these wonderful films. So what's my beef? Do you know who played that music. If you really paid attention to the credits, you might be able to identify the London Phil as the main orchestra (although there was a group in New Zealand, as well as two choirs and some soloists involved). Do they ever list the members of an orchestra in the credits at the end of a movie? Admittedly, I haven't seen every movie ever made, but I don't believe it's ever been done. I do remember a handful of movies that gives credit to the musicians, but that's only been for very small groups, and it is a major exception to the rule.
Why is that?
They list everyone else who even ventured onto the set, the truck drivers, caterers, delivery service, promo photographers, but the musicians are very seldom listed. I think it stinks. The musicians certainly add a lot more to the enjoyment of a movie than the damn truck drivers do. They could argue that the movie couldn't have been made without them, but I would point out that the movie with its beautifully moved set, equipment and cast wouldn't be worth the celluloid it's printed on if you took the music off the soundtrack. If you're one of the many people who has enjoyed Lord of the Rings, try to imagine it without music. How about Star Wars, Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind? And how about all those great musicals? Ever wonder who played the wonderful subtone clarinet solo in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"? I have and I've never been able to find out who it was.
At the end of the movie, they always put the "Big Hit Song From the Soundtrack" in hopes that it will be nominated for Best Song come Oscar time. I'll bet you know who sings those, don't you? They make a big deal out of that. That's because the person who sings it DEMANDS that their name be there. When are the producers of movies going to get off the fat behinds and show a little appreciation? When are the musicians' unions going to start demanding that everyone who plays on a soundtrack gets a listing? They list the recording engineers (who admittedly are rather important to the process), but they wouldn't have a heck of a lot to do if they didn't have any musicians to record. They list the person who hires the musicians for god's sake! I think it behooves people like Howard Shore, Paul Williams and Danny Elfman, composers with real clout to fight for the musicians whose wonderful playing they utilize. And I don't mean putting "London Symphony" up on the screen. They already do that. I mean listing the musicians by name somewhere in the credits. It would not add that much to the rolling time and I'm sure it would mean a lot to those people who work so hard -- and believe me, the music for movies like Star Wars are an absolute bitch to play -- to make watching a movie a much more multi-dimensional experience. It's the least they deserve.
(Now if we could get record companies to start listing the musicians in the orchestras they record. Kudos to DGG, Anne Sophie Mutter and Kurt Masur for listing the members of the New York Philharmonic who played on the recent recording they did of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Let's hope that's not a one-shot deal!)
March 7, 2004: So Lord of the Rings finally got the recognition it so richly deserves and Howard Shore won another Oscar for his score. However, did Howard mention the orchestra? Hmmm... Gee, Howard, bet you would have gotten an Oscar regardless of who played your music and how well they played it, right? I'm not saying that you didn't do a very good job. You wrote excellent music and you even scored it yourself (unlike most other soundtrack composers!). I hope that I was sneezing at the time and that I missed your heartfelt thanks to those fine musicians who brought your orchestrations to life -- and I don't mean the soloists you used like James Galway who showed up for a few minutes to play the main melody and then split. I'm talking about the third desk second violins here. The people who have worked hard to learn their craft -- just as hard as James Galway, for instance -- and whose names never appear in any movie credits. It stinks. I'm fed up. You should do something about it. The movie moguls might at least listen to you.
Spring seems to be early this year in southern Ontario (regardless of what that stupid groundhog up in Wiarton foretold) and this always seems to give me a burst of energy. It's translated over into a lot more forward motion on my current novel. I don't have a lot of time for the actual process of putting words on real paper with a real fountain pen (something I've been doing with increasing frequency, as opposed to using a word processing program), but I'm once again constantly thinking about the story. This time out, I'm trying to have the characters' personalities dictate which way the plot is going to go. I know that sounds like a "duh" comment, but it's really not. I only have a very general outline of the plot and it will be up to who the characters are as to how we'll get to the ending. I am consciously trying to not force the characters to do a certain action at a certain point which will carry forward something I need for the plot. The characters are to be what they are to be, and if it wouldn't be in their personal make-up to respond a certain way, then they won't do it. I will either have to change the way the plot is progressing or change the plot. In this way I hope that the characters will be ultimately more true and believable. This has also required me to write (or at least think up/discover) a lot of each character's "backstory", things which will never appear in the book in its final form, but seem to add depth to the characters and consistency to their actions. It really helps me get inside them and discover who they really are. They are all surprising me with some of the things they tell me. It's a very much out-of-body experience.
March 31, 2004: I was wondering recently how many people out there use fountain pens. I know this is really off-topic but stick with me for a moment and I should be able to tie it in to “the writer’s life”.
Being a southpaw, I’ve always stayed away from writing as much as I could, let alone asking for the major smudging problems that working with wet ink can cause. I also hold a pen really strangely and write “overhand”, so I have at least three strikes against me. Needless to say, I learned about typewriters very early on. My parents did give me a pen and pencil set when I turned 12, and that included a fountain pen. I fooled around with it a bit, but never could get the hang of how to do it. The pen soon went in a drawer and eventually disappeared.
About two years ago now, I bought my darling wife a fountain pen. She uses it at her flute studio to write down her students’ assignments. (Most of her students have never seen a fountain pen and are fascinated by it.) I also bought her 12 bottles of ink, and she uses a different one every week. This got me thinking about them, so I bought an inexpensive one for myself. Then I discovered how many different colors of ink were available, and I was a goner. I now have 5 fountain pens, each with a different color ink and I use a different pen every day in rotation. There’s something about the way a nib feels as it moves across a piece of paper that’s totally absent when you use a ballpoint pen, especially the cheap ones I used to write with. And if I buy inks which dry really fast, I can actually write quickly with my pens, too.
This past Christmas, my darling wife bought me the most gorgeous leather-bound journal from France (It’s refillable, too!) and I started doing the first draft of my current novel in it, using (of course) my favorite fountain pen. Besides getting to use my pen for an extended period, I began to notice something curious happening. My first drafts were much better than they had been when I just sat at my computer and typed merrily away. My writing held together better, too, was more concise, and overall, a hell of a lot smoother. That’s not to say that my prose has become deathless right off the bat. I still have to work it a fair bit when I transfer the contents of my journal entries to the computer, but overall it’s just, well, better.
If you normally don’t write by hand, try it sometime and let me know if you get the sort of results I’m talking about. If you have a good fountain pen, all the better!
April 19, 2004: Okay, okay, I'm a little bit past my time, but I have a REALLY great excuse. Actually, there are a couple of excuses. First, I'm nearing the end of the CWC cookbook project, and as these things usually go, there's a lot to do at the end. It will be all finalized in the next few days, and at that point, I'll put up a few examples of what it looks like. Everyone involved with the project is mighty pleased with it and with the big send-off it's getting at Book Expo Canada in June, it might even do quite well. One excuse out of the way...
Second excuse. I have some really great news. Cemetery of the Nameless has finally found a home! I don't have a publication date yet, but the book will be appearing under the imprint of RendezVous Press. Over the past half-dozen or so years, this company has become one of the major Canadian players in crime fiction and has a stable of terrific writers. among them Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin and Lou Allin. I went to the launch of RendezVous's most recent publication, Death in the Age of Steam, and was very impressed with the event. There were well over 150 people there and they ran out of books to sell. That's my idea of a successful launch! I'm also very impressed with the book. Mel Bradshaw has done a terrific job bringing Toronto of the mid-1800s to life with a very compelling tail of love and murder. This is much more than your average mystery novel. Highly recommended. It's available from any bookstore in the Great White North and certainly available online from the big US retailers. Check out this book. It has a terrific cover, too.
So what about Cemetery? Well, there are the usual changes to make to the manuscript after which things will get underway. You'll hear about it first here. Oh no! That's one more bit of work. It's about time I finished the web page for the book. I already have something on the navigation bar for it. Hmmm... Now what would readers find enticing?
May 13, 2004: This entry is late because I had to get the @#$*% Crime Writers cookbook finished and off to the printer. After that it was time to pull my tax stuff together. Busy, busy busy! And I always have an excuse, don't I? Anyway, one of the things that I want to get on the website is the cover and a couple of pages from the cookbook. It has turned out really well, I think -- and I'm the daddy anyway, aren't I? The launch is on June 13th at BookExpo Canada. (If you aren't a bookseller or someone in the publishing industry, the cost to get in makes it prohibitive to get in, but it will be available in bookstores across Canada shortly after. I will also put a link to where you can purchase it directly from the CWC. For those who have to know right now it's: firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is CA$14.99 or US$12.99 and you'll need to inquire about the shipping cost because it will vary.
It was never my intention to make this bLog a soapbox for me to stand on and pontificate at people who stumble across it -- or visit regularly -- but recent world events have got to the point where I really feel I can't keep silent anymore. I am appalled by what is going on in Iraq -- on BOTH sides. I wish I knew what the answer was. Everything that's happening seems so wrong-headed. The US has again got itself into a political and military quagmire, and there seems to be no way out. I also feel that the people of Iraq have a right to feel betrayed, especially after those horrible prison pictures, but to retaliate by brutally murdering someone on a video and then releasing it to the public is beyond belief. Certainly bad things have happened on both sides, and sadly, will continue to happen.
I wish someone could (and would) step forward and yell, "Stop! This has gone far enough!" then get everyone to sit down and talk it out. Of course that will never happen and wars have always been messy things during which horrible deeds are done. Even though I've lived in Canada many years, I've still retained my US citizenship, so I feel that I can say that what the US soldiers did to those prisoners was appalling and made me ashamed to be from the same country. Like many people, I would like those responsible to be punished, but I have the awful feeling that the only ones who will take the fall will be the small fry. In the past, it was always those in charge who held themselves accountable, but in the times in which we now live, all we do is make excuses. How many times do we hear, "It wasn't me," from those in positions of responsibility? All I could think of as I've watched the whole mess unfold was what is the difference between the Saddam regime and the Coalition regime in Iraqi eyes? This is a really bad turn of events, considering that the US stated unequivocally that it was going in to free the Iraqis. The US administration REALLY dropped the ball on this one and it's going to take a long, long time for the damage to be repaired. It is a very sad turn of events.
June 12, 2004: Here we are a month later again, but I've been UNBELIEVABLY busy shepherding the CWC's cookbook through the printing process and preparing the promo for it. Tomorrow afternoon is the launch, and while I'm looking forward to it a lot, I will certainly be glad when the dust settles and I can get back to writing again!
Dishes to Die For...Again is generating a lot of buzz around Toronto and the comments have all been very positive -- which is quite gratifying after all the work that Norah and I have put in. Our goal is to sell out the first print run by the end of summer which I think is do-able considering the interest that it's generating. We sold over 50 copies at the Arthur Ellis Awards Dinner on Wednesday night and that was just a last moment thing. Tomorrow at BookExpo is the acid test, though, since most book people in Canada turn up for this annual event. Getting launched there is a major coup and a tremendous opportunity, so the operative order of the day is to get bookstores to place orders for the book. If we do our job well, then I'm confident that we'll get orders. If some of the more nationally-focussed PR comes off, that will all be to the better, since, as I found out with Shooting Straight in the Dark, you can have all the buzz in the book biz you could want, but if the general public knows nothing about it, the book isn't going to sell as well as you'd like.
Once BookExpo is over (late Monday), my first order of business is to finish reading a manuscript for a crime novel that's being released this autumn for which the publisher has asked me to provide a blurb. THEN it's on to Cemetery which needs a few substantial changes. It will be interesting to take a look at it since the last time I opened a chapter file was way back in November. My publisher needs a few things "adjusted" so that the book fits in a bit better with the rest of their mystery line. More about this as I set about carrying these changes out. I also have in mind to change several other things here and there to bring the story a bit more into focus. All in all, Cemetery is going to be an even stronger book than it is now. It's taken a long time to get this novel to the publishing stage, but I'm still excited about it and getting more so as I set to work on it once again. THEN it's back to the new book which has been languishing at page 120 since the beginning of the year. The characters must be wondering what's happened to me...
Finally, my mother would be turning 87 today if she were still on this earth, so Happy Birthday Mom, wherever you are!
June 19, 2004: Twice in the space of a week! Wow! So why am I writing again so soon? Well, the cookbook had a very successful launch last week at BookExpo. and I wanted to talk about that. Lots of people dropped by to sample some recipes (my Chicken "Catch-a-Tory", Norah McClintock's Pesto/Proscuitto Pizza, Barb Fradkin's Latkes, and for dessert, Coleen Steele brought Angel's Share Cake, Nancy Kilpatrick brought brownies and Linda Hall came all the way from New Brunswick with some of the best shortbreads I've ever tasted. Needless to say, no food was left over!
Once all the cookbook dust had settled, I got down to some serious manuscript reading for my new publisher, RendezVous Press. They asked me to supply a blurb for a book they're releasing this autumn, The Schumann Proof by Peter Shaffter. The novel is set mostly in the Royal Conservatory of Music here in Toronto, and what they didn't know is that I taught there for about 17 years, conducting the Wind Ensembles and teaching French horn. Peter did a nice job with the story and it's quite an impressive debut. He handled the musical background stuff very well and his prose is excellent. It's going to be released in September from what I hear.
The most important thing, though, is that I've put my head in the noose again and am now the National Vice President of Crime Writers of Canada. The year after that, I'll be president. There are a lot of very good things going on with the organization which has become quite active in the past couple of years. We're hosting a large "Meet the Canucks" party/reception at Bouchercon this Fall and we have some other plans that I'll have to keep under my hat at the moment, but check back here from time to time because they'll be announced here first! (One of the percs of being on the inside.)
July 13, 2004: Since writing last I've been hard at work on what supposed to be some minor changes to Cemetery but wound up being a fairly major "going over" of the novel. I hadn't looked at it since last November, and there were a lot of little things (typos and the like) that jumped right out and I found a major "disconnect" in the story due to the fact that something had been removed. I think now the novel is as strong as I can make it, but I'm sure RendezVous will find some more things to switch around, take out or clarify which will make it even better yet. The thing that makes me much more optimistic about the learning curve of my writing is that I actually am happy with the results with Cemetery. Normally when I get to this point, I don't know if what I've accomplished is good, bad or mediocre. Time will tell as to whether the book is really good or I'm just getting delusional.
I was in Ottawa a few weeks back, enjoying a 4-day weekend there with my lovely wife courtesy of my friend Johnson Attong (Thanks again, Johnson!) and we wandered into Nicholas Hoare's book shop on Sussex Drive (just down the street from the National Gallery where we spent two mornings). Nicholas also has stores in Montreal and Toronto, and if you're ever in any of those places, you really should drop in. The stores are most excellent and quite idiosyncratic in the choice of books they offer. Close your eyes, think "book shop", and when you walk in, that's what you'll see. It even has comfortable chairs and sofas so you can actually take a good look at a book before plunking down your money. The staff is also very knowledgeable.
Anyway, a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves caught my eye and am I glad it did. If you haven't heard about this tiny tome yet, it's a book about punctuation that was a surprise best seller in the UK -- and with good reason: it is hysterically funny. How do you make something as dry as the rules of punctuation funny? Well, that's the trick, ain't it? And you'll just have to buy (or borrow, but preferably buy) a copy to find out. Suffice it to say that it's very informative, as well. If you write, it's well worth owning. If you write stuff like this, then it's something to aspire to!
An oddball thought to leave you with: I've been having acupuncture treatments and they seem to be doing some good. My personal jury is still out on this, but I figure that a few thousand years of treatment with it in China certainly must say something about its efficacy. Anyway, I was talking to my acupuncturist during the treatment last Saturday, and a thought popped into my head: who was the person who came up with this idea in the first place? I can just see a bunch of guys sitting around and one says, "Hey! I got this really thin needle. How about I stick in one of you and see if you feel better? It'll be fun!" Well, I'm being a bit flippant here, but how the heck does someone come up with an idea like this? If anyone out there reading this knows how acupuncture came about, please let me know!
August 14, 2004: Wow! The past month has been unbelievably busy. Since the last entry, I've been hiking on the Bruce Peninsula with my darling wife and equally darling sister-in-law, then spent a week in N.Y. While there, I used the time to do more research on the Orchids by spending a VERY interesting afternoon with Ray Pennucci who is the only person still alive who was in the band from the very beginning to the end (with a few years out while in the service). Ray gave me so much information that I'm going to have to transcribe the entire thing (4 hours worth) and then do a separate page on Orchids history (click HERE to find out more), combining it with what I learned from the Hungaskis. The nicest thing about the whole project has been getting to know these talented people who I has the opportunity to hear play many, many times and never had a chance to meet -- or even see, for that matter. It's been a very great privilege and they've all been most gracious with their time and reminiscences. However, the updates are going to have to wait awhile because...
...I got an email this past Tuesday from Sylvia McConnell, head honcho at RendezVous Press, telling me that my next novel, Cemetery of the Nameless, has been pushed forward in the publishing pipeline and will be out next spring! What it means is that I have a number of things that need doing a lot sooner than I thought would be the case (not that I'm complaining, mind!). First and foremost, the cover crew has to be mobilized which means that the redoubtable Andre Leduc and I have to solidify our cover concept and organize the images we'll be using, since Sylvia has given us the go-ahead to submit a cover -- which she'll hopefully find irresistible -- and then the overall design will have to be done, once again with the help of Eye-to-Eye Design. I wish that it was possible financially for the Andre and I to go to Vienna to shoot the images we need, but that's financially totally ridiculous. I think we have what we need here and I believe the outcome will be more than good, but it would be nice to spend a few days in Vienna. There's lots more to do, of course, before this book is released, but the cover is first in the list. More info to follow...
Lastly, I spent the past weekend on Manitoulin Island which is along the north shore of Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron. I'd been invited to the 5th Annual Kagawong Authors Reading which is held in the town of the same name. My wife joined me and we got as far as Tobermory (one of my favourite places) on Friday night and took the ferry across to Manitoulin first thing on Saturday. I read in the evening with Dan Needles who is famous for his "Wingfield" series of plays which are full of homespun Canadian humour, and if his performance last Saturday night was any indication, they are very funny indeed. All I could think of while he was performing (the only word that fits what he did) was "Thank the Lord I don't have to follow this!" since it had been his suggestion that I go first. I must have done all right, though, because a lot of people bought books. In fact, I took 30 and came back with only one -- and sold out of two titles with people wanting more. This small, one-day festival managed to attract over 120 really interested people and that was truly impressive for a "literary" event. I've done readings here in Toronto that have only attracted a dozen. So kudos to Barb Bright and her committee and special thanks to Beverly Flynn who hosted us at her B&B, Rise & Shine. I had a tremendous time!
September 8, 2004: My photographer friend, Andre Leduc, and I have been busy brainstorming over what will be on the cover of the new novel. At the moment, we've selected the three images we'd like to use and have two of them in hand. The third one might be a considerable problem, but I have high hopes that it will be a surmountable one. I'll probably post our ongoing design attempts here and ask for input!
If you've looked at the guestbook recently, you'll notice that I have heard from the widow of Sky Ford who was the singer in New York Street Band/Gotham, a band Linc Chamberland was in (click HERE for some photos). This is very sad news. Sky was a great singer. Everyone from the Orchids knew him (he sang with them for awhile, but I don't have details about when that was) and spoke very highly of him as a musician and as an individual. The note from Gail Ford is quite touching and worth reading. I wish that I could have gotten to know Sky.
October 2, 2004: As you can see from the site's home page, we're starting to get some promo pulled together for the new book. What you're seeing is two of the visual components for what will eventually be part of the cover art. We have some scans of an actual Beethoven score which will be used and there will also be some bare tree branches for "atmosphere" (that was Andre's idea). Stay tuned because once we have something and it's accepted by my publisher, you'll see it here first!
Last weekend was Toronto's annual Word on the Street. This is a literary street fair that started out here in 1990 and has spread to several other Canadian cities. Last year, the crowds finally drove it off its original location on Queen Street (right where the hot dog vendor in Shooting Straight had his wagon, by the way) and it was moved up to Queen's Park Circle where Avenue Road (yes, Toronto actually has a street with this dumb name) divides and has a big park between its lanes, as well as the provincial legislature. It is a magnificent location for something like this. They had the "big publishers" and various magazines's booths on Queen's Park Circle itself and the smaller groups (which included the Crime Writers of Canada) underneath the mighty oaks of the park itself.
What a pleasant day! The weather was perfect, cool and sunny, and a huge crowd showed up. There were buskers, the usual street food (and some surprises, including someone serving most excellent ribs), music (including the lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies who has a great interest in promoting literacy), and of course a ton of books for sale, often at very good prices. I managed to sell about two dozen copies which is pretty good for these things. I stayed around all day wandering around the site, soaking in everything. It was great to see so many people out to browse, buy books and magazines and help support the cause of literacy.
I don't like to end these entries with something negative, but I have to this time out. My wife and I were on our way home this past Monday, having taken in a movie after I finished work. About 9:30, we were driving on one large highway (the 410) and about to take the ramp onto another large highway (the 401) when a car in the extreme inside lane decided he wanted to take the same ramp, crossed over 3 lanes rapidly and didn't make it, hitting the divider at the beginning of the ramp. His car flew into the air, landing on its roof and slid about another 50 feet. I was fortunately one lane over and the first to get around him. We immediately pulled over and I jumped out of the car to render any assistance I could -- and expecting to find something horrific.
The guy appeared to have not been wearing a seat belt and had been knocked around pretty well, and was extremely lucky he hadn't been thrown from the car or he would have been toast. He was conscious but obviously already suffering from shock. He appeared to be able to move. I tried to calm him down while everyone who pulled up, frantically dialed 911. There didn't seem to be any imminent fear of fire, so I thought he should just stay where he was on the roof of the upside down car until the ambulance arrived. I couldn't get him to listen to this, though, and he started trying to slide through the shattered window. Seeing as I didn't have much choice, I helped him slide out. Fortunately, it didn't seem to injure him further.
Turns out he couldn't understand me because he hardly spoke English (it sounded like Cantonese). His car was toast. I don't know what the extent of his injuries were, but they appeared not to be life-threatening. Vicki and I got a fair bit of his blood (head cut) on our clothes, but all in all, everyone was pretty lucky: him because he survived, and the others around him because he didn't take them out (us included).
I'm relating this story because the only reason there was an accident at all was because this person decided at the last minute that he was about to miss his exit and rather than drive to the next one and come back (maybe a 5-minute detour), he was going to make a very dangerous lane change -- and he almost paid for it with his life -- and ours. I see this sort of stupid driving more than you'd think and I'm sure you have as well. Please do all of us a favour next time this happens to you and go to the next exit! It's not worth endangering a lot of lives. Think about the people you love. Wouldn't they be happy to wait 5 or 10 extra minutes to see you, then to have to face a cop at the door?
Okay, we'll end on a good note (like any novelist, I lie very easily): the page for Cemetery of the Nameless is now available for your reading pleasure. Hope you like it!
November 6, 2004: A month has passed and that's very hard to believe. Authorially (if that's not a word, it should be!), I've been trying to keep a whole bunch of balls up in the air -- with limited success.
The cover of Cemetery is taking way longer and way more work than I thought it would. The image I've been using took about 20 versions to get it to the point where I was happy with it. Only problem was along the way it had turned into a black and white shot. That's from full living color. By the time I got to laying it into my cover document, the lack of color had turned into the biggest problem You don't get much bang on a bookstore shelf with a black and white cover. Andre and I agreed that the cover looked "flat" but couldn't figure out what to do about it. The type faces I wanted to use also weren't working very well. What to do?
Kal (whom I work for) stepped in and between us we've now produced 47 iterations/variations of the cover and none give me a "that's it!" feeling. I decided to create an "online focus group" to get some input on it and the results have been anything but conclusive. The three covers I've shown have been evenly picked, including an equal number who've said, "None of the above." I don't know what this proves except that I haven't produced anything too outstanding yet. I'd really like to get this done and move on to other things, but the cover of the book is very important, as you can well imagine. It's not like I can rely on very many people walking into a bookstore and asking for my book.
The really big problem that I've created is that the cover image is very complex (some say overly-busy). It is an actual photo of the Friedhof der Namenlosen in Vienna with a photo of the Beethoven Monument also located in Vienna. What I'm after is to create a mood and to my mind the image does it. But should it be on the cover of a book? I don't know. It's not the usual sort of photo you see on the cover of a thriller (an attempt at being more subtle and nuanced, I like to think) and because it's "busy", it's hard to put type on it effectively. I think that we now have that problem solved, but the total impact of the cover is still not right. I don't think that it would really stand out on a crowded shelf. Being so little known to the general public, I need people to want to pick up the book and look at it.
The next novel is once again being worked on, but it's slow going, primarily because I have to divide my time between it, designing the new cover and doing a whole bunch of other things (one is updating this site on a regular basis!).
I'm playing trumpet in a big band here in Toronto that's made up mostly of a group of lawyers. I haven't joined them on a gig yet, and my trumpter chops are still pretty weak, but at least I'm playing regularly. The is going to be fun. One of the good things is that two old friends from my McGill days play ing the group, too, and getting a chance to play with Pam and Jeff Fong again is a treat. It also helps to be in a section with Jeff since he's a very strong player. I don't get lost as often!
December 12, 2004: Well, the cover for Cemetery is ready (the front, at least), and the only photographer I'll ever use, Andre Leduc, is on tap to do a new promo shot for me since my current one is about 12 years old. (I didn't have much hair back then, either, you're probably thinking). If you haven't already checked it out, click HERE to see the cover. Many thanks to Andre for his input on the image (scanning, photography and some terrific ideas). For those who are interested, it's a montage of the actual Friedhof der Namenlosen in Vienna (photo by me), the Beethoven monument in Vienna (photo by my wife Vicki), some tree branches, a photo of an actual page from a Beethoven manuscript (photo by Andre) and several layers of "fog"). No, it's not the Concert Rhapsody in F# Minor, nor is it his "Violin Concerto", but if you can guess what piece and movement it is, we'll send you a free copy of the book! You'll have to look closely to see it, but it's there. Two other people also need to be thanked: Kal Honey for his always excellent graphic advice (and several iterations of the cover in our search for the perfect one), and Scott Vale for his suggestion about trying a carved stone effect for the book's title.
The other new thing on the site is a photo I have of the Orchids, circa 1994, when they re-formed to do a gig at the site of the famous Canada Lounge in Mamaroneck, NY (click HERE). I have a lot more photos of this gig which I have every intention of adding to the Orchids Scrapbook page, but I need a week or two of not having a gun to my head for other things in order to do it. I've got about 6 hours of reminiscences from the Hungaskis, Bob Berman and Ray Pennucci which I've used for the information that's up so far on the site, but there is a lot more of it. I still haven't gotten a chance to speak to a lot of other people, something I'm hoping to get done (as far as I can) over the Christmas holidays when the family will be in New York.
December 31, 2004: Another year shot to hell. I wonder how many people besides me are thinking that right now? Yes, I did accomplish a lot of what I set out to do over the course of the year, but perhaps I always set my sights too high, because I always find myself at this point of the year, looking back and seeing all the things that I didn't accomplish. There was a small doughnut chain in Westchester County where I grew up, long before the incursion of Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, called Mayflower. It was kind of a coffee shop that also sold fresh doughnuts and they were very good. My mother used to stop there and pick up a dozen for a "special breakfast" on occasion. The company had a motto and a picture painted on the wall of each restaurant and I think it was also on their doughnut boxes: "As you ramble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal. Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." That's pretty good advice for end-of-the-year thinkers...
My new promo shot is done. Andre is such a brilliant photographer and it's a such pleasure to watch a master at work. There are so many things that he can do on autopilot that I couldn't accomplish with my full attention and a written instructions. As always, he begins these things with little in mind and just sort of goes with the flow. We did this shot at University of Toronto's Music Faculty. The original idea was to do the shot in the stacks of the music library with me holding a manuscript in my hand. Well, the library was closed, so we wandered around the building for awhile, looking for something that would get Andre's creative juices flowing. (It was the first Saturday of the Christmas break so the place was pretty well empty.) We finally found "it" in a classroom. The shots were "okay" until Andre said that the staff lines painted on the blackboard behind me were distracting. He came up with the brilliant idea of having some music on it. Since it seemed appropriate, I wrote out the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (at least to the best of my memory), and it did the trick. Unfortunately, when I saw the proofs, I realized that I'd left out an accidental! That doesn't look too good for someone who's supposed to know these things cold. Photoshop came to the rescue, though, and now the music reads at least reasonably correctly. I will be adding the shot to my bio page as soon as I finish writing this, so you can take a look at it by checking there.
In closing, I'd like to wish everyone the very best of New Years. This one is especially meaningful for our family. We assisted at a very bad accident on the New England Thruway on Christmas Eve. It was caused by someone driving like an asshole. He clipped a car that spun out and struck the median divider broadside. The idiot then lost control of his car and spun out in front of me. I still have no idea how I avoided hitting him. Getting out to help, I was certain we'd find seriously injured or even dead people in both cars. Miraculously, no one was more than shaken up. The cops didn't show for at least 20 minutes and during that time, the idiot's car was struck again and completely totalled. Again, no one was hurt. The idiots ran away (but later returned and the driver was arrested) while the other two cars who had done nothing had to deal with completely wrecked vehicles and a ruined holiday. We were all just thankful to be alive. I guess because it was near midnight and everyone passing the scene had someplace to go, no one but us stopped and stayed to help, and that really bothers me. When something like that happens, I don't care where you have to be or what time it is, that's all out the window. You have to stop. I'm proud to say that both my sons took their duty very seriously and did everything they could to help. Sadly, the whole thing could have been avoided if the first driver had thought about somebody other than himself and hadn't driven like a cowboy. That really hit home with me. We are all our brothers' (and sisters') keepers, aren't we? Be good to each other in 2005. The world will be a better place.
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