Spring is Here!

Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can't feel my anything in this photograph. But... I did it! And I'll do it again.

Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can’t feel my anything in this photograph. But… I did it! And I’ll do it again.

Since my last post (ages ago, I apologize) was bemoaning the long stay of winter, I thought it might be appropriate to start in again with a post celebrating the arrival of spring.

The weather has gotten nice here in Southern Ontario, and the nasty flu and infections that have been plaguing everyone since Christmas seem to have finally cleared off. It was a terrible season for illnesses this year… absolutely everyone got sick at some point, and for an extended period of time. As I understand it, this was because of extreme weather conditions combined with a poor choice of flu vaccines.

But… that’s all behind us now, and I, for one, am finding ways to get out and enjoy the good weather while it’s here (and before it gets so hot and humid that it feels like you’re in a steam room). My friend at The Day Job and I, consequently, are attempting to walk to work every rainless day via the Wentworth Stairs.

For those of you who don’t live in Hamilton, the Wentworth stairs are a set of steel grate stairs built into the side of a kilometer-high sheer cliff called the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment runs from nearly at the border with the US up into the hinterlands, and is a result of glacial activity. In ancient times, it was actually the shore of a vast, deep inland sea, and has lots of fossils embedded in the rock. It’s higher in some places, lower in others, but in Hamilton, it’s pretty high, and sheer, dividing the city almost in half between ‘The Mountain’ (on top of the escarpment) and ‘Downtown’ (the sea-level portion of the city leading down to the bay and the steel works).

My co-worker and I live on The Mountain, and work downtown. Thus, the only really practical way to walk to work is to take the stairs, over four hundred of them in total. We tried the walk last week, and I think it’s going to be really good for us, in the most painful sense of the word. The stairs require a lot of endurance, and more than a bit of courage. At one point, you descend down a sheer cement wall on mesh that you can see right through. It’s not the least vertigo-inducing thing I’ve ever done, and that’s for sure.

But, there is a beautiful smell of spring in the woods around the stairs, and I’m inspired by the people I see climbing daily, multiple times, who are honestly so fit that they should have trophies made in the likeness of their rippling abs. They’re not all young, either. Walking is also saving gas money, and the environment. It’s about time I started walking the walk when it comes to my belief in protecting the environment. And Hamilton really is a walkable city. Proper maintenance of sidewalks and access routes like the Wentworth stairs make what could be a very divided city quite accessible by foot.

Still, by the time I got up those steps, all I could keep repeating was, “I can’t feel my anything…”

It’s going to be a great adventure.

Writing Progress 24/01/2015

Since I want to make more use of this blog in the new year, I thought it might be interesting to post my progress on writing and submitting things as well as the usual local new and opinion pieces. After all, this is my personal blog, and it’s great for posting stuff that would be less pertinent, or totally self-indulgent, on the Pop Seagull blog.

So, let’s start with today. I’ve finished 2000 words of the non-fiction book I’m writing with a local non-profit, which is excellent and making me feel very accomplished. That’s probably why I’ve come online to brag about it, honestly. But, I do plan to remain accountable when I’m not doing so good.

I’ve also finished another few paragraphs on the story I’m hoping to have done by the end of the month to submit to Tesseracts. That one is becoming an issue… I think I can get past my unease with the structure, but it is threatening to become a bit of a whale, and that might be more of a problem. I think I’ll finish it, see how long it is, and then if it’s too long for the GL’s I might change the POV or start it in a different place.

And, lastly, I’ve begun work in earnest on the layout and cover design for the Love, Time, Space, Magic anthology. That’s not word count, per se, but I am really proud of it and I’m looking forward to geeking out on fonts and graphic design again. I’ve actually found some really helpful books in that arena that are helping my designs out, and I’ll probably do a separate entry on those.

So, overall, lots of progress today, which I hope will continue over the weekend and beyond. It’s great to be back working after so long being under the weather. *shakes fist at the Streptococcus Bacillus*

Happy Birthday, Laura!

This blog is partially about Canada, and for me, one of the things that makes me proud to be Canadian is the story of Laura Secord. Laura was a young married woman in the war of 1812, when the US decided that we would be better off under their rule (without our consent) and attacked the settlements at Upper Canada, the centre of which became Niagara Region, where I grew up. The area that Laura lived in was taken by the Americans, and her house was occupied by American troops. With her husband wounded, and nobody else around, the American soldiers disregarded her, speaking openly of their plans to ambush defending British forces.

But, Laura would not be discounted so easily. She had information that could help the British take back the area, and her husband could not carry it, so she stole away from her home and walked 20 kilometers, through swamps, ravines, and all manner of wildlife to get to where General Fitzgibbon and his troops camped. This area is very hilly, has a lot of unexpected drops and erosive soil conditions, and was wet and mucky at the time due to continuous rain, which is common here in the summer and fall months. I should add that Southern Ontario still had large predators and poisonous snakes in the area back then, as well, so it would have been even worse that most people think. Laura fought her way through the wilderness, wearing a thin house dress and slippers meant for indoor use (think something a bit thicker than a dance slipper). When she finally got to the general, she was dirty, and bruised, and cut… but she made it. With her information, the British mounted an ambush on the Americans, and wiped the floor with them at the battle of Beaver Dams.

What I like about this story isn’t the whole Canadian versus American thing. Today’s Americans are fine with me, and they usually only come over the border now to sample the maple syrup and check out the casinos. 😛 What I love about this story is that it says something about Canada’s spirit. Everyone else would have disregarded Laura. We didn’t. In many countries, in that time period, women would not have felt empowered to do what she did, but Canada is a nation of pioneers. Women routinely built houses, shot bears, and generally engaged in all the survival pursuits that the men did, as a matter of necessity. It is this necessity, the bridging of gaps that comes with hard winters, hard knocks and hard lands, that makes Canada, and its people, great. We were also one of the first countries to promote women to high ranks in the army. Canada had a woman colonel, in charge of the nursing corps, in the early nineteen forties, while England was still debating granting nurses military rank at all.

I hope that Denny, the main character in my upcoming novel Distant Early Warning, who braves the wilderness with nothing but a shotgun and a dog, can in some small way channel Laura’s bravery, and the truly Canadian essence of her story.

Happy birthday, Laura, and may you keep on inspiring generations of spirited little girls, as you did for me.

And, without further ado, the most badass song ever written about Laura Secord, by the late, great Tanglefoot.

I’ve Been Everywhere!

That’s right, I’ve been all over the place these last couple of weeks! Two Fridays ago, with a little help from my friend, Stephen B. Pearl, I experienced my first Hamilton Art Crawl. Have you been yet? Yeah you. I’m talking to you. You’re missing out if you haven’t been.

There are some really amazing things on offer down on James Street on the first Friday of every month. Everything from balloon art to impromptu porch jams to gallery openings! And there’s food, and fashion, and impromptu drama and, and, and… I’m getting out of breath just typing it! Come and see for yourself, and bring the family.

Stephen and I parked ourselves out in front of the armory, and it was a great spot.

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I also attended Superfan Comicon this weekend at Exhibition Place, and the crowds were a little thin, but the authors brought the party with us. Well, the authors, and the awesome Elvises (Elvii?). Thanks to Ira Nayman for complicating this pluralization permanently for me. 😛 Shoutouts to Midnight Elvis! Also, check out my awesome new signage in the background. We’ve got a new banner as well, featuring Pops Seagull, but he was a little late to the party and will have to wait for the next appearance.

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Hanging Out At Historic Ferguson Station This Summer

Are you local to Hamilton and looking for something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon? Then come out and join Pop Seagull Publishing, and a whole bunch of other unique local vendors at the Village Station Bazaar! So far, the line-up is sounding really good, with new and used books, vintage clothing, crafts and antiques.

I think this is going to be a cool event, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s conveniently located in the downtown core, off King Street East, so I think it’s going to be accessible to a lot of people who don’t normally get out to more formal events. For another, it’s going to be held in Ferguson Station, which is a beautiful example of the 19th-century reclamations which Hamilton is known for. Once a bustling railway station on the Grand Trunk Railway line running from Toronto to Montreal, it has now been converted into a beautiful, vaulted open air market. Another fun item of note is that Ferguson Station was the home of the Hamilton Mustard Festival from 1998 to 2010.

So, clearly if you’re looking for a quirky, fun, open air venue featuring unique wares (and you know I always am) the Village Station Bazaar is for you! We’ll be there on:

May 4th

June 1st

July 6

August 3

Cute, right? (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

See you there!

And now for one of the great ideas of history…

Yesterday, while driving home from work, I watched someone tailgate a mini truck with a full septic tank and porta-john hanging off its back, supported only by a couple of lengths of canvas strapping.  I wish I was making this up.

Driving has provided so much additional entertainment to my day. If only rearview mirrors were equipped with cameras. 🙂

Some Thoughts On Ad Astra 2014

This weekend, I attended Ad Astra 2014, an annual literary SF/F/H convention held in Toronto. Ad Astra was the first convention I ever attended as a young person (to the best of my admittedly shoddy memory, I was around 17) and it has always been a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Ad Astra is where I first started to connect with the indie writing community, and picked up some of the first books that were outside of the mainstream, feature shelf at Chapters Indigo category. It’s actually where I wrote my first published short story as part of a flash fiction contest. Before that point, I had scarcely ever written any flash fiction. The mental stretch of trying a new form among friends, I believe, helped to push me to that next level and make every word count in a way that finally caught the attention of an editor.

Ad Astra was also one of the first places that I learned about the ins and outs, the opportunities and pitfalls of self and indie publishing. I was intrigued that so many people were out there, doing it for themselves, and not waiting for someone else to tell them it was okay to begin. I met people who were producing high quality work that didn’t fall into easy categories, and I loved it. Yes, over the years, Ad Astra has provided a fertile ground for the seeds of my creativity and business sense to grow in.

These past few years have not been easy for me. A lot of the initial inspiration, strength and conviction I found through my passion for writing and art have been shaken by the perspiration that it takes to get somewhere with your work. I’ve faced severe financial hardship, job uncertainty, hostile work environments, and drifting away from friends. For several years, I also faced self-alienation from the fan community after a horrible experience with a stalker that went unaddressed and left me feeling vulnerable and unsupported within the community. All of these things have led me to question my work, my conviction, and my reasons for doing what I do.

Things reached a low for me this past fall when I was forced to drain most of my funds for upcoming cons and business appearances in order to pay rent, because a contract I had been promised fell through at the last minute. The business was left with a skeleton budget, barely limping along and unable to grow until such time as I found the money to breathe new life into it. With credit card debt mounting, and a job that paid a fraction of what I would have gotten with the other contract, I felt hopeless and bogged down with obligations.

A few months went by, and I tried to figure out what to do, but nothing I came up which seemed realistic. I got a car, got out of debt, and generally stabilized things, but I was still feeling discouraged artistically, and a little bit lost trying to manage my art time with a full time job. That was when I got an amazing email, one that I’d forgotten was coming. Ad Astra was writing me to confirm my place in the dealers’ room, which I’d booked two years before but hadn’t been able to follow up on. Since I now had a car, I could keep costs low, and potentially fund some future projects, if the weekend went well.

Suffice it to say, the weekend went well. We sold out of our second anthology, Spirits of Suburbia, and had to direct more people to our e-store. We made enough money for more books, more appearances, more everything, and better than that… I got inspired again. I learned about some amazing opportunities for marketing my books nearby that didn’t involve table fees or gas money. I looked into some really great volunteer opportunities that I hope will bring me closer to the local writing community. I got two (two!) interviews! There’s way more to tell on that front, but hopefully that can all wait until I have official announcements to make. I also received praise for our books from several writing colleagues whom I greatly respect, which… well, I just have to say thank you to everyone who offered words of encouragement. You have no idea how much your support and friendship meant at this point in time, and continues to mean going forward.

Ad Astra has done it again. I came in tired, discouraged and on my last legs, and I left inspired, supported, and empowered for the battle ahead. Thank you to everyone involved with the convention, and I wish long life and health to this wonderful organization. Thank you for making grass-roots arts and literature possible for the fan community with integrity and inclusiveness.