The Dog-end of a Day Gone By

To call 2016 challenging is to undersell it. It was certainly the most difficult year I’ve endured, and that’s just on a personal level. Caring for a 1 year-old while managing a career as a writer is no easy task. There have been frayed nerves, sleepless nights, and the ever-present worry that this is pretty much it for me and my career; that I can’t do both those things without failing at one of them. And yet, I’m still here, you’re still here, and we need to be because 2017 will probably be worse. It’ll take away people and things we love, the bad guys will keep winning. This is the beginning of the winter George RR Martin’s Stark family keeps telling us is coming.

But it’s important not to give into that despair. You have to fight, you have to strive, you have to marshal resources and press on. Because capitulation is not victory. It will feel like it for a while, but those things you’re trying to hide from will find you eventually.

Think of it this way; we all have some sort of comfort food. Some meal that you love, less because of what it is than what it represents. For me, it’s the traditional roast beef diner my grandmother used to make. The roast was always a little dry, the gravy a little starchy, but I’ve spent the last twenty-three years trying to re-create. But that really isn’t the point; the point is when I do make it, I get a minor taste of what that meal represented; the closeness of family, the smiles, the laughter of people now long gone. There’s warmth to it, and sadness. It’s nostalgic, the comfort meal.

As Michel Houllebecq wrote;

Nostalgia has nothing to do with aesthetics — it’s not even connected to happy memories. We feel nostalgia for a place simply because we’ve lived there; whether we’ve lived well or badly scarcely matters. The past is always beautiful.

That’s comfort food; and art can be comfort food for the soul. Books, movies, TV, music … those perennial works you return to over and over again, not because they remind you of happier times, but because they remind you of a time in your life that you survived. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my artistic comfort foods.

  1. Bond. James Bond.

bond

I grew up with James Bond; the Roger Moore ones specifically, because they were the first ones I saw. I remember how a Bond movie would often be the ABC Saturday night movie; the World Premiere of Moonraker or something Over the last month and a bit my wife and I watched (in reverse order for some reason) the Moore Bond series, and the Dalton ones. We’re now into the Brosnan era. There’s just something about them that gives me a warm feeling, and that, I think, has been their success; by offering us what we want while tweaking the formulas ever so much. From Octopussy on I saw every Bond in the theater, including Never Say Never Again, though I shamefully confess I missed Spectre, being a newly minted parent my movie watching was pretty much impossible. To this day remains difficult – last I saw in the theater was … actually, I legit can’t remember. It was summer, I know that. Maybe X-Men Apocalypse (which was terrible by the way). Did I mention the year that was has been rough? Well, yeah. No time for movies.

2. High. Degrassi Jr. High.

degrassi

Not much time for TV either, though one seminal series turns 30(!) next year. Yes, on January 18, 1987 a little Canadian TV series called Degrassi Jr. High made its debut on CBC. My friends and I all mocked it, for its cheesiness, for its obviously plotted by adults for kids aesthetic, for the Canadian-ness of it (growing up in Canada in the 1980s it was anything but cool). But we still watched it – I know I did, mostly because it was filmed in, and set in Toronto, which I loved, and I would just groove on the scenery. When the final TV movie “School’s Out” aired five years later, I think everyone in school must have watched it because the next day all people could say was “You fucked Tessa Campinelli?” Over the following years it aired in reruns, was relaunched as an enormously successful show called Degrassi that’s still going strong. But now, 30 years on, it’s become comfort TV, for me anyway, because of the cheesiness, because of the plots, because of the amateurish nature of using non-actors. It even makes a brief cameo appearance in my next novel. Those kids are all in their 40s now – and I’m sure the ones who grew up not watching it but actually watching in secret still remember the theme song.

3. God Save the Queen
queen_band_members

If you know me this will come as a shock, but I grew up listening to Queen. First instance was when we moved to Scarborough Ontario in 1982, and at my new school, had to participate daily in a thing called the Health Hustle. Let me back up; by Age nine I was used to starting over in a new school. I’d lived in Mississauga, in Vancouver, in Edmonton, and now Scarborough. First days in a new school were always weird. Being the new kid, for one, being the kid who had no idea in hell what he was in for was another. So on my first day at North Bridlewood public School, around 11am an announcement came over the PA telling the children it was time for today’s Health Hustle. This was an initiative from the Ontario Public School board dating back to the early 70s, to include mandatory physical activity for school children (recess twice a day was not enough apparently). So when the announcement came we were marched to the gym, where a teacher led us through the health hustle routine of jumping jacks and running in place. I had no idea what or why it was, but there was music on the PA, and that year the music was Queen. We Are the Champions, and We Will Rock you in particular (along with some other songs and bands I’ve forgotten, though I think bad Leroy Brown was one of them). That was my intro to Queen, though they would pop up periodically through my life in the next decade, especially as Much Music arrived on the airwaves. I even remember the day Freddie Mercury passed away. They were always bigger in Canada than they were in the US, which is why when Mike Meyers paid tribute to them in Wayne’s World the next year, Bohemian Rhapsody climbed the charts once again. Incidentally Meyers grew up in that same Scarborough neighborhood, and was a friend of one of my friends’ sisters. To this day a Queen song takes me back to those years and memories.

Just don’t ask me to do the Health Hustle.

4. Stand By Me
sk

People ask me who my favorite author is, I typically say Joe R. Lansdale because he’s awesome and everyone should read his books. But for various reasons Stephen King holds a special place in my heart and it was seeing Stand by Me in the theater that summer that prompted me to seek out Stephen King’s books – specifically the novella The Body, which the film was based on. I remember the surprised gasp that tremored through the theater when “Based on a novella by Stephen king” appeared on screen as the end credits rolled. That Stephen King? It bore some investigating, and I did, scoring a used paperback of Different Seasons the novella collection containing The Body (and Apt Pupil, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known The Breathing Method). I read The Body first, and was shocked by how dark it was. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was mournful in a way the movie wasn’t. The sadness at lost friends, and lost years, suffuses every page of The Body, and in the years since I think I may have read it every year or two. I get older with each read, but Gordie LaChance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio remain the same age I was when I saw Stand by Me. As a father to a young boy, it resonates even deeper now. Revisiting The Body is like revisiting old friends; ones you’ll never forget.

5. The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of …

sandman-covers

Of course I can’t leave 2016 without mentioning comic books. My career as a comic book creator has been on hold ever since our child was born, and I descended into the world of Magicians Impossible, but I hope to get back into making comics in 2017. To prepare for that I’ve been rereading several seminal titles, the greatest of which, to me, remains Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Everything’s been written about Sandman, its influence, its importance, over the last twenty-five, almost thirty years so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Nothing. But for me it’s as unique as it was when it first appeared; both cosmic in its scope and intimate in its reach. I’d read periodic issues of it when they first came out, but it wasn’t until 1999, when I became a screenwriter by trade, that I had the money and the time to collect the trade paperbacks, and read them from start to finish. Maybe it’s the fact that it told a complete story. Maybe because every turn of the page felt strangely familiar. Reading it now it’s like an artifact from an earlier age, where my career as a writer was just beginning. But mostly because this story, like all stories, mattered to me, and had the power to change myworld, starting from the smallest speck of dust.

So, as we close up shop on 2016, I encourage each and every one of you to indulge in a little comfort food over the holidays. Listen to that album. Watch that movie. Re-read that book. Get some rest, see some family and friends. And when 2017 arrives, be prepared to fight your hardest for those people and things that mean the most to you.

UPDATE:

January 12, 2017 (Addendum)

There’s one more bit of comfort food I have to add, and it’s this …

Netflix has every Star Trek series available to stream, and I’ve begun what looks to be an epic re-watch of the Original Series. It’s been years since I watched any of these episodes, and i’m reasonably certain that, despite it being my favorite of the Trek series, I actually haven’t run the entire series. There’s episodes I’ve seen, ones I remember vividly (working a summer at a Star Trek exhibit in the mid 90s will do that to you), but many I have never seen or have no recollection of – mostly season 3 episodes, natch. So It’s going to be a fun little ride the next while. Lord knows I’m going to need the distraction.

Everyday is Halloween

I realize I don’t write much about writing like a writer is supposed to. As someone who’s written movies, TV, comics, and now a novel you’d think I’d have lots to say. And I do have lots to say; I just choose not to say it. While I am happy to answer questions people have about my process, writing about it unprompted is just something I don’t do. I figure there’s already too much white noise from writers blathering on about their craft that the world doesn’t need another noise maker.

That said, there is one question I do get asked a lot, especially when people find out I’ve been doing what I do professionally for what will be 17 years this January;

“How do you make a living as a writer?”

To which I reply; “Well, it’s not much of a living.”

Then I answer the question as honestly as possible;

“By not doing it for free.”

That’s it.

No matter your level of experience, if you’re a writer, if you’re any kind of artist, you should get paid for the work you do for people because it is work. Hours, days, weeks, months, if not years of your life consumed by your art. You won’t get those hours back. And if someone is asking you to essentially sign over those precious hours of your limited and ever dwindling lifespan to write for them, they damn well better make it worth your while. Writing a review, penning a magazine piece, writinga screenplay – you have to be paid. That’s pretty much my mantra:

Writers. Get. Paid.

Or to put as The Joker so eloquently did in The Dark Knight (after killing a dude with a pencil, get it? A pencil) “If you’re good at something never do it for free.

And you wouldn't disagree with a psychotic clown

And you wouldn’t disagree with a psychotic clown

But Brad, you say; What if there’s a really great opportunity but not a lot (or any) money? What then? To which I answer: “They can still pay you without paying you.”

Then you get confused.

Then I explain.

For a month in 1998, I lived at a movie theater. The Bloor Cinema to be exact, as I was volunteering to help run that year’s installment of the FantAsia film festival. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did write about the pivotal experience here  as it was one that literally changed my life.

During this film fest I got friendly with Rodrigo Gudino. He was just at the start of a very long and very distinguished career as a writer, filmmaker, and creator and editor of a genre magazine of some note.

ruemorgue_magazine_logo_01_lg

Julian Grant, festival programmer and friend of the magazine, had graciously offered space – for free – in the lobby for Rod to flog Rue Morgue which, IIRC, was only 5-6 issues in (currently RM sits at #161). But back then it was just this small, cool, well-written horror magazine still finding its audience. Anyway Rod and I spent a lot of time in that lobby between screenings, talking horror and movies, and when the festival wrapped, Rod invited me to write some movie reviews for Rue Morgue.

These would be unpaid reviews.

This was because, at the time nobody – not Rod, not publisher Marco Pecota, was making any money at it. They were both living at the magazine’s offices (which were owned by Marco’s family). Food and expenses were covered, but any dollars the magazine made – which were few – were rolled right back into producing the magazine. There was no money – let me repete that; There Was No Money. It was a genuine labor of love for Rod and Marco and for the small group of contributors who, to this day, Rod, and ubsequent editors Jovanka Vuckovick and Dave Alexnder would proclaim without prompting were the real backbone of Rue Morgue.

My first published piece as a magazine writer appeared in the November-December 1998 issue of Rue Morgue, issue #8. It was a review of Jack Hill’s Spider Baby, and appeared on the same page as my then writing partner Joe O’Brien’s review of Evil Dead 2, and Rod’s review of the Canadian thriller Trail of a Seriel Killer, whch was actually co-written by Joe, and starred Michael Madsen as “FBI Agent Brad Abraham.”

IMG_1029

And for the next nearly 10 years I stayed at Rue Morgue even when my career as a screenwriter took flight. I stayed because I enjoyed the work, I liked the Rue Crue, and I just enjoyed being a journalist even though I wasn’t being paid to. I became RM’s man on the ground at the Toronto International Film Festival  from 1999-2002. As by then I’d become a full-time screenwriter, I had the time to spend the week at screenings and interviews and roundtables. I got to see movies before they were released, I got to meet and interview filmmakers known and (then) unknown. People like Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Don Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm, Bruce Campbell, the Hughes Brothers, the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and the even more legendary Roger Corman.

And one of my featured cover stories, I might add

And one of my featured cover stories, I might add

Now I wasn’t paid for these interviews, reviews, or screenings either – well, not if you consider money being the only way to be paid. I was paid in experience, but also in access. To meet people I’d idolized my entire life in some cases. To ask them the questions I always wanted to.

And it wasn’t long before I started getting paid in dollars too.

In 2001 the screenwriting life hit a speed bump – a big project I was working on was canned after delivering scripts, and while I was paid for my work on that and wisely banked the proceeds, I had nothing lined up in the immediate future. I needed to find some way to make rent without having to go back to the 9-5 day job. By then I’d amassed a number of credits with Rue Morgue and while I hadn’t been paid for them, they had been published, and to some acclaim too. So, I selected my best pieces, and using them as a portfolio, began soliciting magazines that did pay.

And in the end, Dreamwatch Magazine rode in to the rescue.

Rule Britannia!

Rule Britannia!

The early 2000s ended up being the twilight years for genre magazines. The internet was around, but people still largely got their interviews and news from publications like Starburst, and Starlog, and Dreamwatch. The editors of DW looked at my portfolio, liked my writing, and when I mentioned I was covering TIFF that year, asked me to be their correspondent. 2001 was a particularly good year for horror-sci fi at the festival – it saw the premieres of the Hughes’ Brothers’ From Hell, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone among others. At the end of the fest I had a good ten feature articles at 2000-2500 words apiece on average to file for Dreamwatch.

Oh, they paid. In pounds sterling. That’s 10p a word, but when you factored in the exchange rate on a then-weak Canadian dollar, when it was all over, I banked nearly eight thousand dollars for what was essentially ten days of work.

And right around the same time, Rue Morgue had grown successful enough that we started getting paid for our work there too. Again, not huge dollars, but enough for Rod and the others to say “thanks” to all the contributors who’d worked for them out of that love of the genre, and of seeing our names on the masthead and in print. We’d all done our part helping build the Rue Morgue brand, and making it the success it is today. You won’t find Starburst or Dreamwatch or Starlong around anymore, but you will still find Rue Morgue. Part of why it has remaned standing is on the strength of its writing; a tone and standard first set in 1997 with Rod’s mission; to explore horror in culture first, entertainment second. And they still do to this day.

But by 2002-2003 I was feeling burnt out. I’d contributed to every issue since #8, but wasn’t having as much fun. It felt like work. Reviewing films was a chore, and I felt like I was running out of things to say. I decided I was going to end my RM run that summer and had filed what I thought was my final piece. It seemed a good time to leave. But I still stuck around some years though less frequently.  An “occasional contributor” Rod caled me, and despite wanting to move on Rod, and Jovanka, and Dave still called me up and asked if I could go interview someone, see a screening, review a book. They like me, and liked my writing, and wanted me to stay in the loop in some capacity.

The mag went through changes, hired new staff and while I don’t want to say they never were more than professional the vibe had changed. I was no longer a part of it but I did feel like I had done my part in those early no paid years to help make RM an institution and one of the few genre mags still standing. But I’ve always been the guy who leaves the party early, and I was more preoccupied with telling my own stories rather than listen to people tell theirs.

But I learned a lot in those years, and a lot of those skills I picked up – economy of writing, making your points clear and concise – proved a boon to my film and TV and now literary work.

So yeah, writing for free can be a good thing. And a good thing to leave behind.

So that’s my story. And to reiterate, you should always be paid when someone asks you to create something for them. If they have the money to produce their book, magazine, movie, TV, whatever, they should have the money to pay you. Hell, if they rent office space and pay a staff, they damn well better have money to pay you.

But you’re ultimately the one who has to decide whether anything is worth your time, and how you should be compensated. A movie ticket may be enough, building your portfolio of work is  also a given. But in the end it’s your ass in the chair. And just because they aren’t offering money, they damn well better be offering you something to make that time worth spending.

Because it’s your time, not theirs. And you won’t be getting that time back. So make every minute of it count.

 

1985

In March of 1985, I was living in Toronto. Scarborough, to be exact. We’d been there around three years, having moved there from Edmonton in April of 1982. I was 11 going on 12, and relatively happy with life. I had friends, I had a house I liked in a neighborhood I loved. We even had a swimming pool. Naturally that had to change and it did with the announcement from my parents that we would be moving yet again, this time to a place I’d never even heard of, and to a different country. We would be moving to Greensboro North Carolina.

Up until then, we’d lived in Ottawa, Barrie, Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Vancouver, Edmonton, and now Scarborough. I thought that was just how people lived. The idea of growing up in the same house, going to the same school with the same people for years was as foreign to me as the United States, but we would be making the US our home for the next two years. That was the plan; my dad, an employee of Imperial Oil (that’s Esso in Canada, Exxon in the US) was being loaned out to a company called Gilbarco, a manufacturer of gasoline pumps and dispensers, whose head office was in Greensboro. This assignment was to last two years. At the end of those two years we would be moving back to the same house, to the same neighborhood, and I would be starting High School, picking up where things left off with friends. So I’d be skipping Jr. High in Toronto while attending it in Greensboro. We didn’t even sell our house in Scarborough; we rented it, to the family of one of my classmates. But come Summer 1987 we were going to be back. That was the plan at any rate.

I was actually looking forward to it because of the temporary nature of this move. That it wouldn’t be permanent. My family and I spent our March break that year in Greensboro so my parents could house hunt, and so my sister and I could see the city we would call home for the next two years. It was nice. It was clean, and my parents wisely bribed us with some cool toy purchases, one of which I still have sitting on my office shelf:

Pictured: My bribe

Pictured: My bribe

But I had made some very good friends in Scarborough, some of whom I’m still friends with 30 years later. In the movie Stand By Me, adult Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss) ends his recollection of that summer of 1959 with the statement that he never had friends like he did when he was 12. That pretty much was the case for me. And when you’re looking down the barrel of 2 years away it seems like a long time. In hindsight not so much; and when you’re in your 30s or 40s, that’s definitely not much time at all. My parents assured me and my sister that the two years would pass before we knew it, and we’d be back in Scarborough before we realized it. That also was the plan.

So I’ll admit once we got to Greensboro I was seduced. The climate was warm, if a little dry, and while we were landlocked our condominium complex had a pool, which made the summer heat easier to handle. I was also getting more into comic books by this point, and the discovery Greensboro had a couple comic shops meant the passage of time would be a little easier to handle. There was also the malls (plentiful), the arcades (ditto) and most importantly the toys. There was a Toy City (think Toys R Us without the Giraffe) in the strip mall a five minute walk from my front door, and the day I walked in there and saw shelves laden with toys I didn’t even know existed, well, I figured Greensboro wasn’t going to be bad after all.

Then school started. And everything came crashing down.

***

Let me tell you a bit about Charles B. Aycock Middle School.

Aycock

Short version: I hated it. Long version: I really hated it.

First, it was way on the other side of town. Despite the fact there was a Jr. High close enough to my home in the northern part of town that I could walk to it, being at the tail end of what was known as the Desegregation Bussing era. This meant that kids from the more affluent northern part of town were sent to one of the less affluent schools in the southern part. I absolutely hated this for no other reason that I had to ride the bus there. And for some reason my bus was on a schedule where mine was the last stop to be picked up, and the last one to be dropped off. So in the mornings I had to fight for a seat, afternoons I had to stay on the bus until the very end, and was the last student to be dropped off, close to an hour after school had ended for the day.

Trust me, it was a lot further than that. Memory doesn't lie.

Trust me, it was a lot further than that. Memory doesn’t lie.

[Note that route was the direct one from our house to the school. The route we actually took zigzagged all the way up from the school, though today I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. It took 45 minutes, that’s all I can remember.]

Second, owing to North Carolina coming in near the bottom of recent national educational standards, the school board decided the best way to correct that was to double down on homework, workload, and classes. We began class at 8:30, and our day was packed. I think we had seven or eight periods, all of which (for me anyway) meant crisscrossing the school, one end to the other. Back and forth, carrying all my books with me because I only had something like 3-4 minutes to get to each class. We got a whopping 30 minutes for lunch, then back into it. As someone who was coming from elementary school in Scarborough where you had one teacher to a Jr. High where you had many, it was like being taught how to swim by being dropped into the deep part of the lake. By 3:15 pm I was exhausted, and still had 7-8 classes worth of homework.

So all of that meant I was not a happy camper. After having what was relative freedom in Canada where I could walk or bike to school – the one close to home – I was bussed across town to a school I hated. And rather than make the best of a bad situation I doubled down on misery. I decided I wasn’t going to make friends, I wasn’t going to join any clubs or extra-curricular activities. What was the point in making friends when we were moving back to Canada, where my real friends were, in a couple years? By age 12 I had gotten tired of saying goodbye to people. Two years is a lifetime to a 12 year-old, but I knew I could do the next two years because I had no choice.

So I got home, got my homework out of the way, and retreated into my comics and toys, and dreaded the next day of school. I lived for weekends because that meant I wasn’t in school. But by Sunday evenings I was back to dreading it. I even had developed something of a nervous condition. That clenching fear you sometime get in your stomach? I haven’t had it since I was maybe 14 but back then I had it all the time, and it all had to do with school.

My parents were worried too. They even talked about pulling me out of school and hiring a tutor, but it was decided that school was just something I would have to endure. And lest it seem like I was living through some Dickensian nightmare, my parents did help by signing me up for karate classes, two nights a week and the occasional Saturday. That went a long way to boosting my overall confidence and helped me work out some aggression at an age when I had a lot of it. They also drove me to the local comic shop once a month so I could buy the latest books, and we went to one of the many local malls once a week or so where I could get a book, see a movie, buy a toy, or just unwind. We also did a lot of weekend excursions to places like Asheville, Winston Salem, Wilmington, and vacationed a bunch of times in Myrtle Beach. Were it not for school I would have to say I really did enjoy North Carolina. But not during school. Never during school.

I also had the radio. I began listening to it obsessively. It was your typical Top 40 radio. That meant Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen, Duran Duran (who I was already familiar with), and the occasional David Bowie and Simple Minds tracks. It was all pretty generic; you were guaranteed to hear a particular popular song once or twice a day, but as this was before the era of Clear Channel there was just enough eccentric stuff that slipped over the corporate wall to make things interesting like Paul Hardcastle’s “19”  which was, well … this:

So, I had comic books, I had music, and if you know me or my work at all, you can see this as something of an origin story. And hindsight being what it is that’s a pretty accurate assessment, especially when I think of one song, and one person in particular.

***

3:15 pm Monday to Friday was the happiest moment of the week (doubly so on Friday, quadruple so on long weekends and Thanksgiving and Christmas and March Break). That was when the dismissal bell would finally ring, that’s when we’d run to our lockers to drop off what books we wouldn’t need for homework, and that’s when we beat feet to the fleet of busses parked out back waiting to usher us home (in my case 45 minutes later). Our bus driver was a 20-something named Roger. He had a deep southern accent, and referred to everyone – boy and girl – as “Dude”. “Hey dude, what’s up dude, good day dude?” He also had a boom box parked beside him. Monday thru Thursday he’d have it tuned to one of the Top 40 stations because he wisely knew that music would keep the kids on the bus relatively under control. But on Fridays, he’d play some of his favorite tunes to gear us and him up for the weekend. That means I heard this song once a week, every week, from September thru May 1986 when classes ended for the summer.

Now I mentioned the strip mall earlier. The one with the Toy City? That mall also had a movie theater. Not a first run, but not a rep either. Basically once a movie’s shelf life ended, before it was whisked away back to the studio vaults and eventual home video release 9 months later, it stopped in one of those theaters (the other being on the other side of town). Shows were only a dollar, so on many weekends I would go there on a Saturday afternoon, pay my dollar, and go watch a movie. The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Back to the Future, Young Sherlock Holmes, Weird Science, Commando – they’d play for weeks, if not months; as long as people kept coming to see them they’d stay – I think I saw BTTF a total of five times before it left that theater.

Anyway sometime in April of 1986, the movie of the week was Pretty In Pink. Like most 13 year old boys I harbored a crush on Molly Ringwald.

Yes. Yes she is.

Yes. Yes she is.

So I went, down the street, to the theater, armed with my dollar, on a Saturday afternoon. I paid, took my seat and watched the movie. I wasn’t too conscious of how many people were in the theater but there was a relatively sizeable group. Anyway after the movie I went outside, and who did I see standing there, also having exited the theater, bur Bus Driver Roger? He was there with what must have been his girlfriend, and she was talking with one of her friends but he saw me and I saw them and I said “Hey Roger.” Hey Dude, was his answer. I went on to tell him I rode his bus and he said “Yeah, dude, you’re the last one to be dropped off. Bummer, huh?” I don’t remember much else of what we said, but I had to ask him and I did.

“Hey Roger, that song you play every Friday when we leave school? What’s it called?”

“That’s Ready Steady Go” by Generation X, dude.”

I told him I liked it a lot, but I never heard it on the radio.

“Then you need to listen to better radio, dude. Not the top 40 crap from Greensboro, but the station from Chapel Hill, dude. WXYC 89.3. Signal is way weak in the daytime but at night it comes in a lot clearer, dude.”

I muttered something like “Yeah, I’ll do that”. Roger left with his girlfriend, I left for home, got to my bedroom, closed the door, turned on my radio and began searching on the FM dial. I landed at 89.3 or thereabouts and could hear some music, but it was faint, with a lot of static. I raised the antenna and it came in a little bit clearer, but nothing great. After dinner I think my parents must have rented a movie because around 10pm I went to my room to read, and listen to music. By now night had fallen and when I turned on the radio the music came in nice and clear. And that was my introduction to the music found Left of the Dial. Bands like The Replacements, REM, Talking Heads, U2, The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division. Thing is I didn’t know their names at the time; just the songs, and over the years (and in some cases decades) that followed I would rediscover them. on Much Music, on CFNY, on MTV, on Spotify. Even recently I’ve found songs I heard 30 years ago but lost, finally unleashing the power of the internet to rediscover them.

***

That was April 1986. Around the same time my dad came home with a surprise. We were moving back to Canada a year ahead of schedule, having just been offered the job of President of Gilbarco Canada. But we would not be moving back to Scarborough; instead we were bound for a town called Brockville that my dad claimed was “near Toronto” (but was in fact 3 hours east of there). Once I finished Grade 7 at Aycock I wouldn’t have to go back there again ever. And when we moved in August that was the last time I set foot anywhere near Greensboro NC. Things changed. Plans changed. But after having survived Greensboro I was better equipped to manage the little curve balls life throws your way.

As for Roger and that bus, the only thing else that stands out was the last trip I took on it. It was the last day of school, we had early dismissal, and I knew it would be my last time taking that ride and that route. With each stop, with each group of kids who god off, I knew that was the last time I was ever going to see them. As we neared the home stretch, and it was just me and Roger I made a request; “Ready Steady Go. Can you play it again?”

And Roger grinned: “Any time, Dude.”

That was the last time I saw Roger, and the last time I rode that bus. 30 years on I do think about those years with a little more nostalgia than I did at the time (the blessing and curse of advancing age I guess). I did hate being there, but in the end it, like most negative experiences, ended up being good for me. And I even managed to make some friends at Aycock. Unfortunately, I can’t remember their names. My time there was too brief, and the span of years since then has grown long.

But Roger? I’m never going to forget that dude, or that song.

21st Century Digital Boy

I realize I don’t really write much about tech. Probably because I have a love-hate relationship with it, especially with things internet-related. For every positive the internet has given us, there’s like ten awful things. I’ve actually been stepping back from all things online over the last year because it was becoming too much. Too much drama, too much distraction, too much bullshit. So it was under that particular cloud that late last year I said to my wife, “we should get an iPad.”

I’m not sure what brought this idea on, because I prefer my books on paper, my TV on a 42 inch set, my movies in a theater, and my music on – well, on my iPod (but preferably with a nice stereo system on hand). Plus, given that I spend my day staring at computer screens, the last thing I want to do on my downtime is stare at another.

I had also never even really picked up an iPad. Maybe at a friend’s place once or twice, but to me it just seemed like an oversized iPod. I didn’t think I needed one. But after doing a little research (thanks, Internet), we decided rather than having a whole pile of Christmas gifts under the tree, we’d splurge on one big gift we could both get some use out of. So we pooled our Xmas spending money, added in some money from our families back in Canada (in our home Christmas season is “Money From Canada” season), and bought a 128 GB iPad Air 2.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And five months later it has become indispensable.

First, for work. Having found travel to be part of my writing life as of late, having the iPad with me on those travels has made doing my job a lot easier. Sending and receiving emails, obviously, but with Dropbox on my desktop and the Dropbox App on the iPad I was able to access work docs when I was up in Toronto last month. So that was handy. Also handy; Skype and Face Time. Skype, because my writing partner Kris is based in Halifax, and while email generally gets the job done, sometimes we need to talk face-to-digital-face. Face Time is great because my wife has it on her phone, and it makes calls to her while I’m away a bit nicer, especially on those longer trips. Given when we started dating back in 2003 (her in NY, me in Toronto) we racked up long distance bills equal to the GDP of a Third World Country, making calls for basically what we pay in internet access is a huge deal.

Second, for news. I don’t watch a lot of network or cable news because this is America and news here is crammed with partisan bullshit from which there is no escape. I am, however, a big magazine guy, having had a National Geographic subscription pretty much my entire life, and I’ve been an Economist subscriber since 2009. Both magazines have apps for subscribers, so I can download the new issue of the Economist on Thursdays, when the print edition sometimes doesn’t show up in my mailbox until Monday, by when I’m at least half way thru the latest issue on the iPad. I can download the latest NatGeo a day or so before the print mag arrives, and they have some additional features – video interviews, interactive maps etc. I also get Intelligent Life Quarterly for free, thanks to my Economist Subscription, which is chock full of goodness. I’ve even been considering switching to the Digital Only versions of my magazines when my subscriptions are up for renewal, for the convenience, and to maybe spare a few trees.

Don't let that fool you -- those are just the recent issues.

Don’t let that fool you — those are just the recent issues.

Third is entertainment. Spotify, iTunes, iBooks, but also (takes a deep breath) HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, PBS, Hulu Plus, and the NFB.

Pictured: All The Entertainments

Pictured: All The Entertainments

A bit about those last two; I went all in for the Hulu Plus subscription ($7.99/month) for one big reason – this:

Drool

Drool

Yeah, that’s pretty much the entire Janus Films/Criterion Collection library at my fingertips. Were I to buy each title seperately I’d be broke. But having Bergman, Herzog, Kurosawa, Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Lang et al just sitting there anytime I want them? Well worth the monthly rental.

But I have to say the real treasure is this NFB app. That’s The National Film Board of Canada’s library (they’re constantly adding titles). I found out about it when I was up in Toronto, downloaded it later that day, and found to my delight it’s accessible in the US.

O Canada ...

O Canada …

It’s also totally free. No charge for the app, no charge to watch. And they have a great function that Netflix, Hulu et al do not– the ability to download films to watch offline. They stay there for 48 hours, but when you’re travelling or just offline, you can watch Neighbors, Paddle to the Sea, the Log Driver’s Waltz, The Burning Times, The Cat Came Back, Ryan – everything.

If there is a downside to all this, it’s that it feels like I have too much entertainment at my fingertips. Funny to think though that five, ten years ago if I wanted all this content I had to go look for it. Like, in a store. So the ease of delivery and access is great.

But there’s 125 titles in my Netflix queue – titles, not individual things and much is TV. There’s well over a hundred Criterion titles in my Hulu Queue, plus there’s all the HBO stuff, the NFB stuff, lots of great public domain content on YouTube, and that doesn’t even cover my Spotify playlists. I’m never going to have time to enjoy all of it.

Now, for the point of this tech talk; How Much Has This Changed How I Spend My Money? Not as much as you’d think.

Granted, with so many streaming options for film and TV, I don’t buy nearly as many DVDs or Blu-Rays as I used to. Really, it’s mostly July and November, when Barnes & Noble have their excellent 50 % off Criterion titles that I go nuts, and even then usually to the tune of $100 for the entire sale period. The Criterion titles I can access on Hulu fill the rest of that void so I only buy the titles I really want copies of.

In addition I will admit my movie going has dropped off in the last year or so(that means “go to the theater to see a movie”). I used to go almost once a week. Now if I go once a month it’s usually for a good reason. Frankly there hasn’t been a lot to really entice me to the movies as of late. What I do try and do is seek out the smaller indie films than the big blockbusters. Age of Ultron doesn’t need my money, but The Babadook, It Follows, and The Guest do.

With one exception ...

With one exception …

With TV, we’ve cut our bill down to just basic service and HBO. We’re buying a new modem so we can return the one TWC charges a monthly rental fee. We could cut the cord entirely, but paying for the basic package gets us a good deal on our high-speed.

As far as music, I’m actually buying more even with Spotify giving me my music for the price of listening to their ads. I know Spotify gets a bum rap for the tiny royalties they pay out to the artists, but I’ve actually been prompted to buy songs and albums from a lot of the artists I discover on Spotify. I still like owning my music, and I like the artists to get a piece of my money because I want them to keep making music. In fact, if Spotify were to give you an option to buy digital files of the songs you stream, a lot of those criticisms might be muted.

Pictured: My shopping list

Pictured: My shopping list

I also find that with the iPad I am spending less time at my desk, which could be a lifesaver. A sedentary lifestyle is not a good one, and when my internet browsing was limited to that chair, it wasn’t doing me any favors. With my work desk focused on actual work it’s not uncommon for me to finish writing a couple hours earlier and switching it off for the day, keeping the iPad on hand to answer any emails that trickle in after the fact.

While it’s weird to think that 5-10 years from now iPads and tablets may look as anachronistic as flip-phones and Walkmans, ours has actually been a pretty good investment, especially when you realize this entire post was written on an iPad, and pictures were taken on it and uploaded on it.

Now all I need to do is know when to turn it off for the day.

 

If You Were Here

So I’ve been “laying low” pretty much since the beginning of 2015 for many reasons; work, personal, weather (seriously, was this or was this not the longest winter we’ve had in recent memory?). Plus I’ve been trying to downsize my involvement in all things online, which must be horrifying to the social media and SEO experts convinced my little patch of cyberspace is on life support. But to them I’d say “don’t worry about me” because things have been exceedingly positive on the work front, as the following will demonstrate.

NOW YOU KNOW

logo

Meet Howie and Baboo. They’re the stars of a new children’s series that will begin airing around the world this fall called Now You Know. It was created and produced by  Little Engine Moving Pictures, and I was asked to write five episodes of the first season. It’s an educational show, aimed at the pre-K crowd, where we provide answers to questions such as “how do rockets get into space” and “what happens when I flush the toilet”. It’s a lot of fun – and it encourages kids just about to enter Kindergarten to not be afraid to ask questions about things they don’t understand. I actually finished my work on Season 1 last year but before it even aired, Season 2 was greenlit. I’m proud to be involved in Now You Know also, because, it’s designed to instill an interest in learning in pre-schoolers, to teach them not be afraid to ask questions, and to not be afraid of giving a wrong answer. As someone who was quite shy starting out in school, that is important to me. Plus it has puppets, and puppets are fun.

MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE

At long last I have joined the ranks of published authors everywhere as my debut novel MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE will be published in 2017 by MacMillan Books. It’s about … well, just read this:

IMG_0297

This has been in the works for a while, probably since 2009 when in conversation with someone I was trying to say “Mission Impossible” and mangled the words as they escaped my mouth so they sounded like “Magicians Impossible.” And that someone said “you should totally write that”. And I thought to myself … maybe I should. That someone was my former agent Brendan Deneen, who left agenting to become a successful editor at St. Martins Press and producer at MacMillan Films. And while an earlier/different version of the Magicians Impossible story has long existed, both in screenplay and novel formats, it never quite clicked the way I wanted it to.  That was until a year ago when Brendan invited me out to lunch to ask what I thought about reworking the existing Magicians Impossible story into something along the lines of “Harry Potter meets James Bond”.

And over the intervening months as I worked feverishly on two other projects, I brainstormed MI’s characters and the world they lived in, wrote a detailed story treatment and character histories, and after much trial and error, delivered thirty pages of manuscript and an outline before jumping onto a plane to Scandinavia. Returning from my 10-day odyssey, I waited, and waited, and waited some more. And just before Halloween, Brendan and MacMillan made their official offer. After some months of back and forth while I sought out and secured the services of uber agent Jodi Reamer at Writers’ House  the deal was finalized. I deliver the manuscript in a year’s time.

60 SQUADRON

BB Cover-page-001

Now, time management will be key, because in addition to Magicians Impossible, I landed my first ever TV series created by me. Sort of. 60 SQUADRON – or “THE SQUADRON” which is the current working title (and rest assured there will be more titles run through the grinder before we settle on the final version) tells the story of the famous (some would say infamous) squadron that was home to notable flying aces like Albert Ball, Willy Fry, Grid Caldwell, and a Canadian of some note named Billy Bishop. This was the finest collection of pilots the Allies and the Royal Flying Corps had to throw at the Central Powers, and has been a story I’ve been wanting to tell nearly all my life. Along with creative partner writer-director Kris Booth (At Home By Myself With You) we in the very early stages of development, having just partnered with Copperheart Entertainment (Ginger Snaps, Splice, Wolves) to bring the adventures of 60 Squadron to the small screen in – we hope – 2017, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Bloody April – the most deadly month of aeriel combart in WW1. There are still many miles to fly on it and this is very much the start of what we hope will be quite the journey, but as it’s the culmination of an idea that planted itself in my mind way back in 2001 it feels like for the first time in a long time it could become a tangible reality.

MIXTAPE

The last, but certainly not least bit of news pertains to everybody’s favorite comic book about teenagers in the 1990sand their feelings. The ink is dry and I can finally announce Mixtape will be returning to comic book stores later this year. I just signed a deal with the brand new Space Goat Productions to publish itexclusively. The caveats: we’re reprinting Vol 1. (so Mixtape 1-5) and publishing it bi-monthly starting in September 2015.

Space-Goat

To those of you who already bought Mixtape this may come as a surprise and possibly a disappointment (though I hope not the latter). I’m routinely asked when Mixtape #6 will arrive, and can say that its arrival (along with subsequent issues) just became easier.

The fact is that outside of Mixtape #1, no issue of Mixtape has adorned a comic book shelf since April 2012. Issues 2 thru 5 were self-produced and distributed to what stores I could convince to accept them. Most of the sales came from comic book shows and conventions, sold personally by me to whomever stopped by my table. As you can imagine this is not a huge number. Local stores like Carmine Street Comics have really supported the book, but there’s a vast ocean of stores across the land and I want to get Mixtape into all of them. We’ll also be making Mixtape available digitally through Comixology, and other digital platforms, each arriving concurrent with the print version.

MIXTAPE VOLUME 1 will also be collected in a trade edition – something we’re calling a Deluxe Edition featuring playlists, behind the scenes notes and sketches, and hopefully a few “bonus tracks” in the form of guest artists, and a new Mixtape short story. We’re also considering adding a splash of color to the Deluxe Edition.
The plan is to segue from the “reprint” of Vol. 1 into Vol. 2, starting in July 2016. Volume 2, titled “Daydream Nation” has outlined and scripting has just finished on issue #6.

That gap in time gives us time to produce the books, and hopefully release it at a more consistent rate. Of course, this is all contingent on people buying the book, requesting it to be added to their pull-list, and spreading the word. And maybe, just maybe, Mixtape will find the audience that doesn’t even know it’s been what they’re looking for.

Now this does mean that issues 1-5 are being removed from IndyPlanet and iBooks as Space Goat takes over the print rights. This is unavoidable but if you already own the books in either form you still get to keep them. And we’ll be making some minor tweaks to the reprinted issues so the versions you already own will be collector’s items.

Plus, as detailed above, with Magicians Impossible and 60 Squadron dominating much of the next two plus years of my life, the ability to produce and promote Mixtape at shows and online is severely limited. The last thing I want is for it to die on the vine or be forgotten entirely – something that was in risk of happening before Space Goat stepped up. With the support of a comic book publisher with a solid marketing and sales plan in place, the job of getting Mixtape out wide becomes much, much easier.

And that’s where things are. That doesn’t include a couple other projects that may also be gearing up sooner than later. One is another TV project, the other a possible book-to-film adaptation, but they’re both in the discussion stages so I’d rather not dish on them just yet. But either way, 2015 is going to be one hell of a year.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find time to update this website more often.