Astute readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been sprucing it up a bit lately. Less astute readers will not have noticed anything. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t noticed anything; many of the changes have been subtle. Why, I myself might not have noticed anything had I not been the one doing the changes.
Angela Misri kindly did the heavy lifting a few years back, establishing the look and the template and so forth. Since then I’ve long wanted to do some serious tweaking, and lately have found myself in exactly the right head-space to do so. Head space that should perhaps have been directed at working on novel number two (working title Captain’s Away), but I’m at a part of that project that requires some extra heavy thinking, which I’m doing as I putter around this blog.
So what have I done? Well, first of all I’m generating posts at a rate I haven’t matched since about fifteen years ago. A lot of them are from rooting around my laptop, peering into old files, where I’m unearthing all sorts of interesting treasures (well, to me, anyway) that I’d long since forgotten about, and that have proven good fodder.
I upgraded from basic Dreamhost to DreamPress to ensure better stability, better support, and faster loading.
I added a newsletter sign-up form in the right side bar (though I’m still not entirely sure it’s working properly. If you’ve signed up, best let me know via [email protected] so I can double check that your sign up worked).
I added content to my Media/Interviews page. Allow me to reiterate here that this blog does not itself generate any revenue (other than indirectly selling a few books, theoretically) and all the content I post I do so under the Fair Dealings provision of Canadian Copyright law. I think some of it is of historical interest to some people. I do my best to give credit. If I’ve posted anything (pictures, audio, etc.) that you own or have anything to do with that you would prefer I not post, just let me know and I will take it down. Check out my disclaimer here.
And oh yeah, I’ve updated that disclaimer.
A while back WordPress changed the way posts are created (from classic to something called Blocks) which screwed up the formatting of a lot of my old posts. I’ve cleaned them up to make them easier on the eye.
I’ve tweaked some of the content on various Pages, editing and adding bits here and there.
And I’ve updated links to other blogs, removing stale links and adding new ones. I was sorry to see some go, but in some cases the blogs haven’t been updated in years. And there were a few blogs that I should have added long since, such as Dr. Robert Runte’s blog, and, and Pigdump, and the Five Rivers blog. And I just find everything Den Valdron writes inherently interesting, so I’ve added a link to his blog.
Is any of this worth it? Well, it hasn’t resulted in any additional book sales that I can see. If that was the only reason I was doing it there certainly wouldn’t be much point. So, it’s worth it only in the sense that keeping up this blog is something that I enjoy. It relaxes me. And from time to time I hear from people who tell me they derive some enjoyment from it.
Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.
First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.
I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).
Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball:A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.
Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.
Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.
Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.
And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.
One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.
And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.
(Reposting this review after noticing the formatting of the original was kinda messed up. We can’t have that!)
As with the first book in the series (Jewel of the Thames), Thrice Burned consists of three casebooks, or mysteries, each told in the first person by Portia herself. Each casebook concerns itself with at least one mystery, each one carefully crafted. The clues are tantalizingly distributed, drawing the reader in, allowing them just as much fun as Portia herself has in trying to solve the mysteries. But there is much more on offer here than mere riddles. There are elements of historical fiction too, as each casebook is set in nineteen-thirties era London, England, featuring Scotland Yard Constables and street urchins and reporters and clergy men and plenty of other skillfully drawn characters, right down to their authentic clothing choices and distinctive accents.
Thrice Burned is the second book in an ongoing series of mysteries featuring the brilliant young consulting detective Portia Adams, who comesby her gifts honestly as the granddaughter of not only the great Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes’ friend and chronicler Watson as well. It is a nifty conceit for a series, and author Angela Misri makes the most of it. Portia Adams is utterly believable as the direct descendent of the iconic detective and his sidekick, inheriting every ounce of Holmes’ gifts for observation and deductive reasoning, but leavened with Watson’s humanity.
Each casebook features a stand-alone storyline and a neatly resolved ending, but Misri is not satisfied to let it go at that. Like many a modern era television series, each episode builds upon the last, throughout both this book and its predecessor, from casebook to casebook. As in real life, Portia and her friends continue to mature and develop. Relationships are never straightforward. Portia herself, although gifted, is no superhero, suffering from the same feelings and emotional frailties as many young women her age. Misri delves into Portia’s inner life just enough to make her real, but not at the expense of the adventures and mysteries that are the real appeal of this excellent series.
Already top-notch from the get-go, Misri’s plotting and characterization improve with each casebook, increasing in complexity and depth. This bodes well for future books in the series.
My friend and fellow writer Angela Misri just tackled this list on her blog and for some reason it resonated with me, so I thought I’d tackle it here. Here goes:
1. What makes this year unforgettable? Definitely a trip to the United Kingdom with my family (England and Scotland). I saw Stonehenge during that trip, which I never thought I would ever see, and yeah I know it’s a bunch of rocks, but rocks don’t get much cooler than Stonehenge. The history! And did you know they have graffiti on them? Roman graffiti! We also spent a lot of time in London, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Great family trip.
2. What did you enjoy doing this year? Wait, didn’t we just cover this in question number one? I should probably learn to read ahead. Okay, aside from a trip to the UK, I enjoyed working on a couple of special projects. One is novel number two (working title Captain’s Away) and the other is a secret project I’m helping a friend with. It’s really cool, and I’m honoured to be helping him with it.
3. What/who is the one thing/person you’re grateful for? My wife Lynda. Kind of a miracle that not only did she show up in my life but that she chose to stay there. If we expand the list to include three people, which I insist that we do, it would include my daughters Erin and Keira too. I must have paid extra in the Before Life for the Super Special Family Package, and I’m sure glad I did. Worth every cent.
4. What are your biggest wins this year? Pleased to have successfully put together a little short story collection, which I’m calling Other Times and Places. There were a few wins in my day job, too, just a few projects that came together nicely. But the biggest win is probably the trip to the UK.
5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year? There’s one movie I saw that I keep thinking about. It’s called The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, a British film that came out in the early forties. I discovered it when Jim Donahue @otherjimdonahue mentioned it on his twitter feed. I knew Jim had interesting, eclectic taste, so I went looking for it. It did not disappoint. It’s about the lifetime of a soldier who’s lived through the Boer War as well as the First and Second World Wars. It’s really about growing older. You see an old person, you’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg. Behind what you see is an entire lifetime of experiences, not immediately visible. How did they become who they are? What did they go through to get there? That’s a part of what The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp is about. But it’s also about changing times. How what might have worked for you in, say, the Boer war might not necessarily serve you well in the Second World War, against the evil of the Nazis. Fascinating movie, and one of Martin Scorcese’s favourites, that directly influenced how he made Raging Bull.
6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out? I worried about a book fair some friends and I put on in May. Concerned it might turn out to be a complete disaster. There were disastrous elements, but we survived. We didn’t go broke, some people sold a few books, and we got some great interviews out of it. .
7. What was your biggest regret and why? Long ago I vowed to live my life without regrets. With that mindset I make the best possible choices I can. In retrospect, they may not be the right choices, but looking back I know that they were the best possible choices I could have made with the information I had at available at the time.
8. What’s one thing that changed about yourself? I care even less whether anyone likes me. Or so I tell myself.
9. What surprised you the most this year? I discovered that I can’t do word problems involving math under severe time constraints surrounded by Vice Presidents, engineers, surgeons, and nuclear physicists working (more successfully) on the same problems. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but I was. This happened at a course I took at Queen’s University Smith School of Business. A man’s got to know his limitations. I guess that’s one of mine.
10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self? Write more, better, faster. Completely useless advice, but it’s what I’d tell myself.
I’ve been tagged by Author Susan Rodgers to participate in a Blog Hop. This is nothing like a Sock Hop, which I once participated in back in nineteen seventy-six. This Hop involves writing, not dancing, which is good, because I’m much better at writing than dancing.
Susan Rodgers, as well as being a talented writer, is my sister. She’s one year, one month and three days younger than me, but a whole lot smarter and better looking. She’s a film maker with several films to her credit, some of which have been broadcast on the CBC and Bravo, and the author of the Drifters series of books, available online and in fine bookstores in Prince Edward Island. I am honoured to participate in a Blog Hop with her.
The way it works is she asks me a bunch of questions, which I answer here in my blog, and then I somehow convince two other bloggers to do the same for me.
Here are Susan’s questions and my attempts to answer them:
1. You grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada, but you’ve lived your adult life in Toronto and Whitby, Ontario. You work in Toronto, one of the busiest cities in Canada. It’s a far cry from the serenity and natural beauty of PEI. How do you feel these two worlds affect your writing? Do they merge in any way?
I moved to Toronto when I was nineteen and lived there for eleven years, then moved to Whitby to raise a family, although I kept working in Toronto, where I still work. Somewhere in there I also spent the better part of a year in France, which you may have heard of. Believe it or not, there is serenity and beauty to be found in Toronto and Whitby. I love Toronto, and have loved it from the moment I set foot in it. When I lived in France, I missed Toronto terribly. My friend Lisa Trimble sent me a copy of the Toronto Star after I’d been in France a while, and I devoured every single word in it, including the Classifieds, because I missed Toronto so much.
My wife Lynda and I actually moved to Whitby because downtown Whitby reminded us of downtown Summerside PEI. So we obviously miss PEI too. Though now that I live in Whitby, I miss France terribly. I miss wherever I’m not.
Prince Edward Island has had a tremendous impact on my writing, though. My damned-near-complete novel (2500 words left to revise out of 115,000) is set on an island which is a fictionalized version of Prince Edward Island. I’ve retained some place names (like Evangeline) and changed other locales completely (Charlottetown became Farfuston, with a completely different down town core). I did this because I couldn’t remember Prince Edward Island accurately enough, forcing me to make stuff up. I do most of my writing on the Go Train travelling back and forth to work where there’s no internet connection, so I can’t research anything. Also, I like making stuff up, so it doesn’t really bother me. Curiously, people who’ve read portions of the novel think it’s a real place in Great Britain. But they’re wrong. It’s Prince Edward Island in disguise.
I don’t think Toronto has affected my writing at all, so far. Or Whitby. They’re just where I do my writing.
2. It seems you write mostly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Did you consciously choose these genres or do you feel it came to you somehow? Do you think you will always write in these genres or might you branch out some day?
It’s true that all of my short fiction and my damned-near-complete novel are either fantasy or SF. I have also written and co-authored several plays, none of which is SF. (They’re murder mysteries.) I read many genres, including non-fiction, and enjoy them all, but for now I’m happy writing SF and Fantasy. I have several novels in mind that I’d like to write, all of which are SF. I do have a hankering to pen two memoirs. One would be about my career at the CBC, and the other would be about my time in the magical land of France. Or I may fictionalize those experiences with a dash of SF. We’ll see.
3. Tell us about your process. I’d be interested to know where you do most of your writing as well as what comforts you like to have around you. I, for one, must have my large iced mocha to ‘jumpstart’ my brain. Do you have any such habits or creature comforts when writing? Does it help you to sink into that fantasy world more fully?
As I mentioned earlier (what, were you not paying attention?) I do most of my writing on the GO Train. The GO Train carries me back and forth from Whitby to Toronto, and each ride is between half an hour to forty-five minutes long, depending on whether it’s the Express. The longer the better for me. I like nothing better than for the GO Train to break down. Then, while all about me are losing their heads, I get more writing done. It’s a sad time for me when the train pulls up to the station, and I must put away my headphones and close my laptop. Especially when I accidentally close my laptop on the top of a USB key, which I did once, which broke the screen. But I digress.
I have no rituals on the train other than to start writing as soon as possible and not do anything else, like read, or talk to people. I’m rather rude on the train, or at least I feel like I’m being rude. Sometimes people will try to talk to me. If it’s someone I just met, I will talk to them the first time I ride with them. During that ride, I will tell them that normally I write on the train, and that if I ever run into them again on the train, I hope they will forgive me, but I would prefer to write instead of talk. I explain that it’s pretty much the only time I have to write, and writing is extremely important to me. I have never met anyone who doesn’t understand. Most people who take the train regularly wind up doing their own thing on the train anyway. My friends know better than to try to talk to me on the train. It took me years to build up the courage to tell people that. But now that I have, I get a lot more writing done.
Long ago, I read that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, trained herself to be able to write while raising kids. Sometimes she would only get a few seconds in. Time for a single sentence, or to correct a single word, before having to change a diaper or manage some minor crisis. But that was enough. It was progress. I’ve trained myself to do the same. I can write anywhere. I’ve written in Doctor’s offices, by swimming pools, at my kid’s art lessons, piano lessons, on the train, on the plane, buses, outside, inside. I don’t have any rituals other than ignoring everything around me and starting to write.
4. What are you working on now and what are your hopes and dreams for future writing projects?
As I mentioned before (you really aren’t paying attention, are you?) I’m finishing up my damned-near-complete novel, with the working title of A Time and a Place. This is a one hundred and fifteen thousand word novel about a man by the name of Barnabus J Wildebear whose fifteen-year old nephew has been conscripted into an alien army. Wildebear, the boy’s only living relative, sets out to protect him, but to do so, Wildebear must pass through an alien portal that transports him not only to other worlds and times, but into the very minds of alien beings.
My next novel, which I plan to start the day after I finish this one, will be set in the same universe. It’s working title is Captain’s Away!, and it’s based on a radio play I wrote which was broadcast on CBC Radio back in 2003. It’s about a woman who is mistaken for the captain of an interstellar space ship and is forced to play the part as the ship heads for war.
Then, if I’m still capable of writing (when I finish that one at the age of one hundred and fifty-seven), I may attempt one of those memoirs I mentioned earlier. Or I may just take a well-deserved retirement, perhaps in France, which is almost as beautiful in parts as your beloved l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.
Angela Misri is an award-winning journalist, writer and mom based out of Toronto, Canada. Her first book Jewel of the Thames was published in March 2014 by Fierce Ink Press. This is the first book in the detective series called ‘A Portia Adams Adventure‘ and Angela is hard at work editing books two and three right now! She has spent most of her career at the CBC making radio content extraterrestrial through websites, live streams and podcasts. These days Angela also freelances locally and nationally for magazines and newspapers and teaches at Ryerson University.