August 10, 2019

I’ve now been a Facebooker for a couple of months, a certified page-pushing member of a social medium I once decried as a totally bogus alternate reality for people with nothing else to do.

And now, well… mea culpa. I humbly apologize, especially to the scores of people who have friended me in very short order and who have made me feel like a complete heel for doubting the value of their forum.

Having lived in relative isolation for the last decade, I am not unhappy having so many people to listen to or speak to (when I feel like it, of course) without having to buy drinks for any of them. I leap out of bed each morning, and while the coffee brews and I organize my pens and notebooks for the day’s writing effort, I scroll down to see what’s up with the old and new friends to whom I’ve connected. It’s a pleasant piece of my day.

But with a platform on Facebook come some awful responsibilities – like realizing that declining a friend request or having one of my requests declined or ignored can be hurtful, or like learning (from my wife, who is a Facebook veteran and who is all-knowing about such things) how to wield the power of unfollowing or snoozing otherwise well-meaning folks who insist on showing me every single dog and cat up for adoption in rural Alabama, or folks who fancy themselves as political pundits when we already have far too many of them.

Perhaps the best thing about my Facebook experience has been the discovery that so many people still have a great sense of humor. Every day there is a joke, a photo or a video that makes me smile, sometimes laugh out loud. It’s a welcome relief from the news of the main stream media, a brightness in what otherwise might be a darker day.

One of the first people I connected with, a writer/environmentalist I hadn’t had contact with in many years, welcomed me to the Facebook fold and said he hoped that I would be able to manage my presence there better than he did. After two months of reading all of his posts, I think he manages his Facebook page with enviable style and compassion.

As for me, I suppose I manage and I do enjoy it, though I cringe when my good wife gives me one of those I told you so’ looks from the other side of the breakfast table.

I still haven’t decided whether I am evolving or devolving, but I’m having fun with it. Maybe an old dog can’t learn new tricks – but he can learn to roll over. 


How the story began
July 29,2019

I’ll never forget the first time I read that the Ku Klux Klan once boasted having 40,000 members in Saskatchewan. Having been born and raised there, it was like a punch in the gut. Ultimately, it lead to the writing of my second novel, “A Gift Of Scars”. Subsequent research confirmed that while the numbers may have been somewhat exaggerated, there were indeed many thousands of KKK members in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada. The phenomenon was relatively short-lived, occurring mostly in the late 1920’s, but it was significant enough to have influenced the outcome of at least one provincial election.

Writing historical fiction necessarily involves a great deal of research, and therein lies quicksand for the novelist. Repetition of too many facts, excessive adherence to the details of events, or refusing to “What if” beyond the boundaries of empirical data may result in a dry story. A writer of fiction must always remember that plot and characters are proprietary and can therefore be treated with a writer’s liberties. That is why an Author’s Note attached to a work of historical fiction will often explain that certain historical data has been altered to suit the narrative. A historical novel should not be intended to re-write history but rather to bring it to life in an exciting and entertaining way. Stated as an appropriate cliché,
“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story”.

It is when the writer goes beyond the inescapable facts and events of history that the story in the novel is born. It is by asking, “What if….”, that plot and characters are created. It is cynical to say that there are no new stories to tell. Historical fiction is not simply an attempt at a Hollywood remake. It is as much about the fiction as it is about the history.

History often exerts a tremendous power of suggestion, which is why we can always learn something from it.



July 15, 2019

Decades ago, in another life, I got cornered at a cocktail party by a yuppie stockbroker who was working the room. I gathered, after ten minutes during which he talked and I listened, that his life consisted of work at his brokerage house, jogging, and virtually nothing else to hear him tell it. Finally, when he seemed to run out of steam and was scanning the room for his next victim, he said absently, “So, what do you do?”

What I did back then and what I do now, and all the many and varied things I’ve done in the years in between since I retired twenty-five years ago, have led many to think that I’m not playing with a full deck, that my elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top, that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer… you get the picture.

Maybe I’m not the brightest bulb on the tree (okay, enough with the stupid analogies). The point I would argue is that a life well-lived is a life rich in experiences and memories. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a stockbroker and/or a jogger, but if that is all, if that is the sum total of what you are, you are drastically short changing yourself.

Stretching your spirit to embrace all the stuff you’ve had on your bucket list for too many years is a good thing. It will pay valuable dividends when you are too old to do much more than relive your memories.

Crazy? Possibly. Hell, probably. But I’m okay with that.



July 11, 2019

When my first novel, “Not My Dog”, was published, a number of readers who knew me asked if it was autobiographical. The question was not unexpected since there were some obvious parallels between my wife and me and the protagonist couple in the story.

The short answer to the question is no, but it is more complicated than that. A writer of fiction creates a story from imagination, but imagination (even if the story imagined is pure fantasy or science fiction) is unavoidably grounded in facts and perceptions from the writer’s life and experience.

Writers are often advised, wisely I think, to write about what they know. So I wrote about life in and around a small town on the prairies. My characters were prairie people as I knew them to be, for any character devised in fiction must, of necessity, be based to at least some extent on known facts about real people.

So, was it autobiographical? No, not really, but sort of…..



June 26, 2019

For those of you who complain that you have no time to read in today’s increasingly busy world, I offer the following humble advice:

  1. Audio books – We’ve all got places to go and nobody walks any more so if you can bear to switch off the 1,000 channels of Sirius radio in your car, you might give this a try (Warning: some of the people who will be reading to you may have seriously annoying voices. Turn them off immediately and try one of these other tips).
  2. Read in the tub – this often doesn’t turn out to be as good an idea as it sounds. Wet books take forever to dry and always smell funny after they do.
  3. Read while you’re on hold on the phone – I once started (and finished) “War and Peace” when I called Revenue Canada to ask about a getting a tax write-off for all the time spent on hold on the phone.
  4. Read when you’re standing in line – a recent trip to the grocery store (where I stood behind a delightful senior citizen who insisted she could find the exact change in her purse if she pawed through it long enough) provided me with just the opportunity I needed to finish the last 200 pages of “Ulysses”.
  5. Read in bed – but don’t read anything terribly exciting (you’ll be up all night) or anything too dull (you’ll fall asleep, snoring, with the book on your chest and your glasses on your nose and look like a total doofus. Trust me, I know).
  6. Read while you eat lunch – I recommend only disposable magazines or cheap trade paperbacks. You can’t get barbeque sauce off paper and you can’t read through cheese.
  7. Read when you’re on the throne – this might be the very best time and place to read. Indeed, there are many of us who simply must read in this circumstance. You folks with magazine racks in the loo know what I’m talking about.

See? By simply using these few useful tips you can easily find an average of at least three hours a day in which you can read to your heart’s content. I’ve just rewarded myself for finishing this blog by eating a large pepperoni pizza. Now where did I put my copy of “Don Quixote”?



July 14, 2019

What possesses us to take up a pen or a keyboard to put words on paper or screen? Why do we do it? I’ve been asked that question a time or two by well-intentioned friends or acquaintances and always felt they found my answer (“Because I enjoy writing.”) was somewhat less than satisfactory. Others, who perhaps did not know me as well, on hearing that I was writing a novel, would immediately ask, “Who’s your publisher?” as if publication could be the only reason to spend one’s time writing instead of working at a regular job or profession. I found this distressing.

And so, feeling coerced to seek legitimacy with those around me, I polished up a manuscript and self-published it (being unwilling to send my work to agents or small presses after poor experiences on both counts). Now I mostly don’t say much if folks learn that I’m a writer. And I am a writer. I have no qualms about calling myself that, self-published or not. I’ve written creatively on and off for the last thirty plus years and I have put pen to paper every day for the last three years since I found the freedom to write without interference from other activities (like a regular job).

If you think you want to write because you believe it will lead you to riches or celebrity, you might want to think again. Like realtors, insurance salespeople and young lawyers, only a small percentage of those who pursue a writing career manage to make any kind of living at it, and the number of writers who achieve fame and fortune is miniscule by comparison.

Writing to please a publisher, editor, agent, generous arts council or loved one will not, I submit, result in your best work – which is not to say that the result won’t be good. It simply may not be as good as it could be if you wrote to please yourself.

So write because it makes you happy to do so. I dislike hearing complaints from angst-ridden writers who moan and tear their hair over agonizing re-writes, abandoned manuscripts or writer’s block. Writing is the best job in the world. Like anything else, if you find it excessively painful or distressing, you ought to look for other ways to spend your time.

I have a website, a blog, I’m on Facebook and I self-publish because apparently these things suggest legitimacy. But I write because I love to write and for no other reason.


Thanking my wife

May 31, 2019

Unless your writing life is entirely hermitic, you likely have someone you can turn to for help and support. It may be a friend, a family member, an agent, editor, publisher, or a fellow writer. It must be someone you trust. In my case, my wife is critically important to the creation of my novels. I simply could not write or publish without her, she brings so many talents to the process.

From the moment an idea for a story takes root in my brain (which I then immediately discuss with her) she is intimately involved, offering thoughts and comments and ideas, some of which may get incorporated into the work. She has a well-developed imagination, and we have had many productive “what if” discussions. What if a character did this or that, what if the plot took this twist or that turn, what if I helped out more around the house? But I digress.

I will often read aloud to her the results of a day’s work. This has value because of her reactions to what I’ve written (as a future reader might react) and because hearing the words offers a different perspective on the examination of what I’ve done.

I write cursively (in a notebook with a fountain pen for anyone interested in that level of detail). I am a hopelessly inaccurate one finger hunt-and-pecker on a keyboard, but my wife claims she actually enjoys typing and I am keen to believe her. Could there be any happier coincidence?

After months of scratching away at the typed manuscript she enters the corrections and helps me to proofread the result. I abhor proofreading so any help I can get makes me happier than cancelling a visit to the dentist. When the manuscript is as clean as we can make it, she formats it for independent publication (uploading to Amazon, Kindle, etc.). She also designs the covers from scratch and does a beautiful and completely professional job. She tends to the promotion of the books on various websites and on social media.

All of these tasks she performs willingly and with great diligence. Everything she does involves the use of computers which I confess are beyond my near-Luddite levels of expertise. I can manage an email account and search for information on the internet, but my technological skills are then exhausted. If any thing goes wrong I’m left staring at my laptop with a crazed, near homicidal look on my face, and whining, “Honee…”

The most important and valuable thing she does for me is to provide moral and spiritual support. She believes in me and in what I write, and that is priceless.

This is Jenine, the lady in question.