It’s been so long…

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Peg McCarthy/ OShoot Photography

Well, it has been awhile.

Almost four years to be exact since I decided to blog and send my words into the Internet ether. Hello, is this thing on? Can you hear me?

I know I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last blogger or writer who once feverishly wrote up a storm and then faded to the background.

What’s been going on since we last interacted?

Easy answer: Life.

Marriage, a new city, an ever-expanding career (I could or maybe should start a blog about management of a B2B newspaper in the ever-shifting world of journalism) and the latest, incredible addition, a baby son who is on the cusp of turning one.

It’s that last factor which brings back. I have honed a career and life where the written word, being accurate, telling stories and capturing images has been the main driving force. The lessons learned in those pursuits I know have shaped me but this new force of nature, a baby boy, has been an awe-inspiring change which lit the wordsmith fire…well…for today anyway.

As my awesome wife and I tackle the journey of parenthood, it has been amazing to see and feel how this little person we created is a game changer and the main reset button needed for a life which became too fixated on a career and getting ahead.

None of the observations I make now and going forward will be revolutionary or different from the other mommy and daddy bloggers out there but all the same, here we go…

While watching my son grow over the last 11 months I have caught myself at times looking at him in wonderment as he takes in the world around him, recognizing, remembering and experiencing new things on almost an hourly basis. I have said he is like “an open nerve”, experiencing and feeling everything right now as he lives in the moment.

Trying to reset this adult brain, which worries about the house, hiring and firing staff, traffic congestion, bills, politics, friendships come and gone and an ever slowing metabolism, to see things around me as a child does, has been refreshing and much needed…more than I would have ever acknowledged before or even expected.

What will my legacy be, I often wonder, for my son to learn about? He will figure me out in due time but I sometimes wonder, will he be curious about what his old man obsessed about most of his life? Where will he find those stories and photos? Will he wonder, “Why didn’t you write about me?”

My wife has dutifully kept a journal for our little guy during his first 11 months and I am so thankful she has. I have obsessively taken pictures (which parent hasn’t in the age of the smartphone?) in order to document his early years but I really have not written much. Then again, even before he joined us, I had pretty much forsaken any type of personal writing. The energy wasn’t there. The time was nowhere to be found. The passion was essentially gone.

I think things are changing now.

The blog has been dusted off, as has the keyboard, for how long I am not sure but surely there is time between diaper changes and getting down on all fours, to see the world as he does, where I will be able to write into the ether again.

Thanks for that little man.

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From Paris to under Stephen King’s dome and back.

So, let’s write about books.

After another successful haul of books thanks to Christmas, I have an incredible amount of prose to add to my already excellent haul of books from last year. Slowly but surely that pile is being whittled down- the classic mantra of all book readers.

Books are little wonderful collections of art in my opinion. All that energy and work, hours of angst and blissful inspired glory, spilled page after page, all neatly bound, ready to be lost in…if you are ready to take the plunge.

Recently I finished two books that appear far apart on the literary spectrum but they were worth the slow coffees, teas and snacks I had as I flipped through them.

Each book is rated on the typewriter (remember those?) scale from one to five. The more the better.

PARIS 1919: Six Months that Changed the World

By Margaret MacMillan

Take a peek at the world map, see it all divided up by borders, both manmade and natural. If you ever wanted to know how most of those pieces of this great puzzle were created, read this book.

Paris 1919 is internationally renown so it won’t mean much to heap further mounds of praise on it but rest assured, the accolades are all well deserved. The research and writing which went into this political history book, which centres around the Paris 1919 peace conference, is incredible and a joy to indulge in.

As the world reeled from the end of the First World War its prevailing powers were bent on justice, acquisition of power, land expansion, global positioning and control. The strength of MacMillan’s research and style really delivers “fly on the wall” moments again and again as she unfurled those six months in Paris.

If you love history and politics, add this to your bookshelf ASAP. If you ever wanted a better understanding of Germany pre-World War Two, the Middle East, the Armenian genocide, Italy’s inability at political stability, Japan and U.S. relations pre-World War Two…and there is more, read this book. One thing I can tell you is this…the butler did not do it.

5/5

Under the Dome

By Stephen King

This 1,074 word opus by the master of fright, scream and all things macabre was a workout to carry around for its sheer size alone. For the record, I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s Darktower series, if you are ever going to read some King, read this series first. Under the Dome has nothing to do with that awesome series though it is the longest King book I have read since finishing the Darktower journey.

What continues to amaze me about King is, love him or hate him, he has an incredible imagination and impeccable story-telling capabilities. He is not lavish and technically great as a writer, according to some, but that does not matter. Dear reader, the man knows how to spin a tale. Under the Dome is about a sleepy town which becomes enclosed in a massive dome, essentially becoming the world’s biggest snowglobe.

How quickly does this town go to rot “under the dome”. Who is the first to crack? Who is the first to try to capitalize? And…who will stand up and fight? As King explores the small-town psyche of Chester’s Mill, Maine, you at times get the feeling that his descriptions of people in crisis, even under these fantastical circumstances, might not be that far-fetched.

A good read for a long book, not one of his best but it is worth getting lost in for a bit. I only have one issue with the book but I won’t ruin it for you, if you commit to this opus, you are in it for the long haul!

3.5/5

G20 Notebook: A final entry

Riot. Bomb scare. Policy making. Debates. All you can eat buffets. A fake lake. World Cup drama. Writing up a storm. Seeing a side of one’s home they’ve never seen before. Welcome and farewell  to my first G20 all in 48 hours.

This final G20 Notebook entry is a bit late but sometimes a writer hits the wall, runs on fumes and the crash is sometimes worse than the fall itself.

Kudos to G20 riot cops who could've kicked butt and taken names later at anytime as they were subjected to uncalled for abuse while doing their jobs. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

BOBCAYGEON &  G20 VIOLENCE: Isn’t it funny that the acts of marauding wannabe anarchists end up overshadowing legitimate, credible protest on issues which were G20 related?

The fact you live in a democratic state, not a police state, allowed you the platform to be losers and unfortunately, hundreds of misguided, naive, rhetoric-filled protestors defend you, the same people who truly did abuse THEIR RIGHTS to free protest and dissent.

Riot cops watch the University Avenue march. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Our cops are tops. The professionalism and poise by the ones I saw and engaged with was beyond reproach for my eight hour experience, just mere feet and sometimes inches away from me. As I said, the only cop action I can judge is what I saw right infront of me.

As I avoided and engaged in arguments with protestors. Avoided stampedes and debris thrown by protestors and was sometimes trapped by riot cops… one line from a favourite Tragically Hip song, called Bobcaygeon, echoed in my mind, “In the middle of that riot, I couldn’t get you off my mind.”

Jack Layton and his Fake Lake photo op. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

FAKE LAKE SHORE SIGHTS: Above you will see a photo of NDP leader Jack Layton near the $57,000 G20 media centre “fake lake”. Remember the evidence of this Jack photo-op if ever he complains about the lake, it sure didn’t seem to bother him that afternoon.

Along the fake lake shore, on World Cup Sunday, the potential for World War Three was set. England vs. Germany were playing and scribes from both nations filled the lake and coffee bar area of the media centre.

Brit fans catch the game seated on the fake lake deck. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Each goal and near miss produced cheers and groans which echoed throughout the centre. Needless to say, G20 coverage for both of those nations suffered a tad that morning. When England got robbed by a missed call on a legitimate goal they scored, we all got worried. Thankfully, all Austrian reporters avoided the game viewing area.

Chilling by the $57,000 fake lake. A great respite from the writing grind. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA CENTRE RANDOMNESS:

The hub of the media centre. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

The hum and noise you get when you have almost 400 journalists typing away on their laptops or conducting interviews in various languages, all in one large space, creates a unique experience. However, make all these journalists evacuate early in the morning, before they have had their first coffee, thanks to a bomb scare and the true danger is not the bomb, that I can assure you.

He's thinking about the perfect lede... CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace


Professional journalists are that- professionals

The face of journalism keeps changing and there are days I do not like what we see in the mirror.

A recent decision by Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that journalists do not enjoy a special constitutional protection to shield the identity of sources of information during police investigations.

The decision means a National Post reporter is now required to hand over documents to police that he received while writing about a land deal by a former Canadian prime minister. Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau did a really good streamlined job explaining the decision and I highly recommend it. Kirk Makin at the Globe and Mail also did a strong detailed piece too.

I’ll admit the decision is a concern. As professional journalists we need to understand what it means now, as we move forward, when we receive envelopes surreptitiously and sources seek anonymity.

However, what bothered me most about the decision is that solid, grounded, professionalized and educated journalists are having their integrity and rules of governance and conduct being lumped in with basement bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalists and internet media cowboys.

The court explained that there are “cogent objections to the creation of such a ‘constitutional’ immunity” for protecting sources found in a recent case and that…

“the protection attached to freedom of expression is not limited to the ‘traditional media’ but is enjoyed by ‘everyone’ who chooses to exercise his or her freedom of expression on matters of public interest whether by blogging, tweeting, standing on a street corner and shouting the ‘news’ at passing pedestrians or publishing in a national newspaper,” the court explained.

“To throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it (or, as here, choose to amend it with the benefit of hindsight) would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognized values such as privacy,” the court stated.

There is the final rub for me, right there in the paragraph directly above, “to throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality.”

As a professional journalist I can confidently say that I and fellow counterparts in real media outlets are not an “ill-defined group” of writers and speakers. We are journalists. We are trained professionals entrusted and expected to have the judgment to use “off the record” comments and anonymous sources both efficiently and effectively. The fact we get lumped in with a bunch of rag tag pseudo reporters is what drives me crazy.

“Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor…”- On Deadline

Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor and it does not make me qualified to make educated diagnoses based on experience and with expertise.  Also, it certainly does not allow me the privilege of using a scalpel or to write prescriptions.

A trained professional doctor has the above privileges and such respect should be afforded to trained, professional journalists- our tools of the trade should not be hindered by those who blog and tweet without journalist credentials.

If you do not believe so, drop me an email when you have a five inch open gash in your thigh, I’m sure I can find a way to fix you right up via Google or the home remedies book.

Self-publishing your book can fulfill a dream

Was Snoopy a self-publishing type?

Every writer, from a crusty newspaper hack to flowery wordsmith of prose, usually thinks they have at least one book lurking in the shadowy recesses of their minds.

Though that book lives there, sometimes growing deep roots, for some, getting it to see the light of day as a published work can be as daunting as actually writing it.

Then, tack on the agonizing self-analysis: is my story original enough? Are the characters realistic? Will anybody really like it beyond my mother and closest friends…if that? and it is a wonder that anything gets published at all.

Talk to Alex and Donna Carrick and you have two authors that decided to wrestle an author’s demons of self-doubt by wielding the weapon of self-publishing.

“The old model of book publishing is a dying model,” says Alex, author of Two Scoops is Just Right, his recently self-published  first novel. “This will all really change when e-books get fully accepted and that will leave publishers looking for a stream of e-books. Also, if critics start to review self-published books, that is going to help get those books  into distribution.”

Alex has no issue in sharing his rationale for moving away from traditional publishing: agents and publishers want exclusivity, they get to set the price; sometimes they demand copyright; royalties “are a pittance” -between seven to 15 per cent at best, he says and sometimes books are held up if a competing one is coming to market.

“Still, the old model has the one big advantage- access to bookstores, supermarket shelves and so on. Their distribution is the key,” he notes. “However, for those who do self-publish it is simple, you have to do the promotion yourself which means working social networks like LinkdedIn and Twitter and making a meaningful presence there.”

The economics of printing an e-book is what will change the market, says Alex. Author royalties with e-books are as much as 50 per cent; self-publishing royalties through Amazon are 33 per cent. The key to turning a profit is volume and putting in the time to market yourself and believing in giving self-publishing a shot, he says.

“For those writing books, why should it not see the light of the day?,” Alex says. “If you have the wherewithal to self-publish why not do it. Get it out there and take your lumps along the way.”

Taking the hard road of so-called “legitimate” publishing is not foreign to Donna, as she celebrates her recent self-published book The First Excellence:Fa-Ling’s Map. She attempted to get her earlier works published through an established publisher but found the process disappointing.

“My first goal is to reach readers through whichever channel I can,” she explains. “I have seven manuscripts and three self-published works. I know the first few manuscripts were practice but at what point do you decide as a writer to have more than just manuscript paper under the bed collecting dust. You have put your work in front of people.”

Donna adds that if she ever does get published by an established publisher now it will be because someone discovered her via her online footprint.

“The fact is now the writer who may be shy and wants to go off and write has to be this exotic dancer, promoter and songstress in order to promote themselves and help with their self-publishing,” Donna says.

BookSurge and Lulu offer a cheap and relatively easy opportunity to fulfill a dream, say the Carricks. Kirkus Reviews has recently established a division  to objectively review self-published books and the Carricks have paid to have their works reviewed.

“They say they are objective and we are  not looking for a puff piece,” explains Alex. “The ultmate goal is for someone to read what you have done even if they do not like it.”

Beyond the hocus pocus and voodoo of writing

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My writing voodoo doll, don't tell anyone.

The last time I posted I spoke of my daily struggle which involves an elephant and prose, my “pushing an elephant up a mountain” which is getting words down on the page.

Below are the questions a survey of international authors answered recently which explored their “rituals of writing”. Since I spoke of the feel and magic-like quality I sense as I get to writing, I figured a more technical exploration is in order beyond the hocus pocus and voodoo of  the whole process.

How do you get started writing?

When I am filing at the office, coffee is the trick, I need to get at least two cups of java down before I hit the keyboard. Usually, it is during that second cup I get through my final review of notes and material before I tackle the precious and almighty lede.

When I’m writing at home, an espresso and  some peanut butter and toast is a must. I’ll look at the blank page, look away, come back, try and write, feel disgusted with what is on the page, and then I start again…espresso…a snack…stare at the blinking cursor then throw something down, anything really, again.

How do you avoid getting started writing?

Internet. One of our greatest research tools is my worst anchor to getting started. Sometimes it brings that spark of an idea and other times, the variety and options available just a click away slow me down or simply take me away. Once I do my personal online daily check-ins, that is when I enter “avoiding writing” territory.

Where do you write?

Anywhere, wherever and whenever an idea hits me. Coffee shops, libraries, hotel internet lounges and business centres, home and the office. At home, it is in the office or with laptop perched on the coffee table as I sit on the couch.

What is the optimal creative atmosphere?

Background noise is the key for me, not too loud but a nice subtle hum or hiss in the background. At home, bad, bubble gum scripted, peripheral, light movies work best- thank the lord for Michael Bay. Complete silence is a death knell for me and writing.

Idiosyncrasies: dress, food, furniture, etc.

When I’m at home, have to be in pjs bottoms or hospital pants and one of three favourite t-shirts. I can’t write at home while wearing work clothes, just can’t be done. I mentioned Michael Bay movies in the background but other loud action films work too, such as the Matrix or Gone in 60 Seconds. If it is music, has to be something almost folky, ethereal or moody needs to be playing. Johnny Cash, Massive Attack, Neil Young or Bonobo are some of my favourite writing ride-along friends.

Do you actually like writing?

Some days, I am just not sure, remember my elephant analogy? There are days my back and shoulders are tired of pushing it up the mountain and being so close to its backside. Other days I think, “Does a bricklayer actually like laying brick everyday or hope to get something from it…every single day?” I don’t think so, he just lays brick and builds a wall.

So, for me some days, I’m just putting words down and creating a story, a blog post, a poem a short story…sooner or later a house gets built that I can step back admire…sometimes, it is just a forgettable wall.

Wot R U Krayzee?! Texting will make us chimps…again

Thanks to texting we can regress far enough with written English and human evolution to begin acting like chimps and throw feces and bananas at each other.

A British academic in a recent Reuters article has suggested that teachers and grammar hawks should just accept the phonetic spelling of words and throw out that subtle little nuance called ‘correct spelling’.

“Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I’ve got a better idea,” Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement, reports Reuters. 

“University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell.”

 To kickstart his proposal, Smith suggested 10 common misspellings that should immediately be accepted into the pantheon of variants, including “ignor”, “occured”, “thier”, “truely”, “speach” and “twelth” (it should be “twelfth”).

Why is an academic suggesting UNIVERSITY teachers should be accepting incorrect and lazy spelling of words from UNIVERSITY students. Did it ever cross his mind that those students should not be in university if they are too lazy or dull to know how to spell “their”, “speech” and “twelfth”?

We need to stop having so-called academics and feel-good types suggesting to bend and change normal scholastic and educational standards to meet lazy and unmotivated students. This reminds me of a recent Toronto District School Board policy which abolishes late penalties for homework or projects handed in late or incomplete. Whatever happened to learning about consequence (or is it con-see-qwents)? Apparently late penalties provide “powerful disincentives” to students the TDSB states.

Will the bank be so kind if you are late with your mortgage payment? The tax man? The loan shark? Will 2 + 2 begin to equal 5 and not 4 so we do not hurt a student’s feelings, encouraging them to a life of perpetual mistakes?

I text, a lot. Also, I use all the nutty abbreviations that go with it such as: l8r for “later”, c u “see you”,  r for “are”, u for “you”, n for “and” and the famous lol, lmao and rotflmao. Of course, I have a vested interest in using proper spelling, I am a journalist and career writer and love the proper written word. Spelling words correctly is my literary first commandment.

English is not an easy language to pick up. However, it is one that you can get by with while speaking badly if it is not your first language. However, when the “English” themselves, well, at least one academic from there, is looking for shortcuts for university students, the problem goes beyond texting and accepting recurring mistakes. How about ensuring students can spell and write English properly before moving on in school. How about not suggesting rewrites to the English language to placate lazy students and dare I say lazy teachers.