For Mum

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Hey, Mum! How’s it going? Two weeks have passed since your big 80th birthday celebration. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and rather than send you a card, a book or some flowers, I thought you’d like to see the little video I shot for the surprise family reunion on April 26th. It’s great to see you smiling – hell, it’s great to see everyone smiling. We’re all much older now, a bit threadbare, some of us. We’re wrinkled, balding, a few pounds overweight. Your youngest is 42, your oldest is 58. There are three generations in this video – that’s pretty amazing.

We’ve all had our ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies and you know what? We’re all making it in life. I think you should know that we couldn’t have done it without you. I couldn’t have, for example, become a professional author without you telling me to stick my nose in a book time and time again as I grew up. And I think you should know that your love of reading rubbed off on all of us, I think. Or most of us, anyway.

80 years is a milestone for sure. You’re still reading books. You’re still cheering me on in all my endeavours. You’re a sounding board, a quiet listener and most importantly, you’re the wisest person I know. So enjoy the video and remember – we all love you very much. Got it?

 

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A Message To The Grade 9 Students at Trenton High School

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(Action shot of  obscure Canadian author talking to teens)

Hey Gang!

Thanks for inviting me to talk up books and publishing and my journey as an author. It was awesome to meet all of you and to answer your questions. Thanks for the HUGE card, the gift card to Timmies and the Werther’s Chocolate Toffee which every author on the planet knows can be life-sustaining fuel when you’re knee-deep in the act of book writin’!

I just wanted to leave you a note from a guy who actually spent time in Grade 9 back when Dinosaurs ruled the earth.

If you’re reading … read more. It’s all out there for you to discover. Everything that humanity ever said, ever thought of or might be thinking … it’s there in books. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading because the great thing about books is the odds are heavily in your favour that you’re gonna find a book or two or twenty or a hundred that will connect with you on a level that you’re going to carry with you all your life. And there are authors dying for you to read their stuff! We want to take you on a journey that will transport you through time and space … or will challenge you to consider your place in the world. The people you are right now … right this very minute … and the people you’re about to become.

If you’re writing … write more. Write every day. Write every chance you get. Your word processor, your pad of paper … whatever you choose to write a story, your thoughts, your hopes and dreams and ambitions … it’s a big blank canvas waiting for you to fill up with words that paint a picture. that speak to the heart, that have the ability to transform you and those who read what you’ve written. Writing … serious writing is a love affair. It’s a passion. It’s what’s constantly on your mind because you’re always generating ideas for stories yet to come. So just write. Just keep writing. Tell. Your. Story. Tell as many stories as you can. Create worlds, characters and events that will make a reader stand up and cheer, drop down on their knees and weep, inspire, dream … you name it.

Very simply … make your writing “un – put – downable”.  Just keep at it.

And if you’re not reading … give it a test drive. Kick the tires. Take it for a spin. Wander around a book store or the library. I guarantee … I ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE that if you do this … you’re gonna find something to read that will absolutely rock your world to the very core. And it might even make you want to read another book or possibly even inspire you to try your hand at writing.

Thanks again for having me. It was a fantastic visit. You guys asked awesome questions and hey … thanks for reading my book!

Take good care!!!

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A story about a car, friendship and goodbyes

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1967-cadillac-fleetwood-john-james
This is the story of a car. And friendship. And time.

The car you’re looking at is a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. My best friend had a clone of that car. I met him when I was in Grade 11 – that would have been the fall of 1983. He’d transferred into my high school from another one just a few blocks away and I even remember the first thing he ever said to me – “Hey man, can I bum a cigarette?”

We were standing outside the freak doors – that’s what everyone at my high school called the set of doors up the hill from the gym. Freak doors because that’s where all the freaks would hang out. (I know, the very notion that teenagers actually used to smoke cigarettes on school property is likely foreign to anyone under the age of thirty, but I’m 46 and it was 1983.) Anyway, I can’t remember what led me to decide this guy with wild afro style hair, big sideburns and a long leather duster would be worth getting into a conversation with but there was a twinkle in his eye and an earnestness to his voice that made me decide to hand over a cigarette. I remember that he commented on my Zippo lighter and then he fished one out of the pocket of his duster. Oh … he was wearing a leather cowboy hat and he took it off – that’s how I knew he had a white guy afro.

Our talk about our lighters led to me saying that I almost lost mine when I was at Calgary’s World of Wheels auto show that spring. BOOM! A common interest. I was a classic car nut (and still am) and so was he. He told me his name and I learned that he was in Grade 12 so he was a year and a half older than me and could drive to school each day. I commented that I drove to school too and was the proud owner of a 1972 Pontiac Acadian that burned a quart of oil every week. I remember him saying, “where did you park?” and I told him. He said his car was parked in the same lot and he said, “I’ve got a Caddy.” I called BS immediately and he said, he’d prove it to me so off we went to the student parking lot and it was there that I laid eyes on this beauty of a car. Little did I know that a 1967 Cadillac, a bummed cigarette and a Zippo lighter would lead to a thirty-year friendship that has endured through our collective ups and downs.

I’m reminded now, at 46, that time is a fleeting thing you truly don’t even attempt to quantify when you’re 16. The mere notion that you’re an actual mortal doesn’t even register – particularly when you’re bombing around the streets of Calgary while riding shotgun in a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. Dear God, what a car that was. You could sneak five people into the drive-in in the trunk of that land yacht. And Jesus, it was fast. It also didn’t burn a quart of oil a week, so that was a bonus too.

He graduated high school that year, 1984. I graduated a year later. We basically hung out together every single weekend. Driving around the city. Looking at old cars. Smoking and joking and talking about girls, metal and of course automobiles.  He helped me upgrade to a better car – a 1972 Dodge Monaco with 70K miles on it. Five hundred bucks. We popped the hood, started it up and I remember seeing his lips arch up into a mischievous smile. He said, “Sean … buy this car.” And so I did.

I joined the army in the summer of 1985. I’d just graduated from high school. There were no jobs due to the recession. My friend lived at home with his mum in Whitehorn, a new community in Calgary’s North East. I did my basic training and wound up getting posted to Calgary for the next seven years. Life continued on as it had before – we hung out together on weekends. We smoked and joked. And drank probably too much for anyone’s good. I got married. He got married. I had kids. He didn’t. I got divorced. He didn’t and is still with his wife of more than twenty years.

I got posted to Atlantic Canada for about a decade. We didn’t talk very often because I was there and he was somewhere else. I wound up back in Calgary in 2003 and we just picked up where we left off. Talking cars. Hanging out. Being friends.

But that whole time is fleeting thing has hit home in the last year. My friend is dying. He’s suffering from Pick’s disease – a neurodegenerative condition that shares many symptoms with Alzheimers. I’m losing him. His wife is losing him. I’m losing my best friend and I’m angry about it. I’m really fucking angry about it. We were supposed to be friends well into our old age. We were supposed to go fishing, wear pants up to our armpits and complain about the government. We were supposed to …  insert life experience here.

I’m angry because my friend is a good person. I mean a genuinely good person. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He would absolutely 100% give you his last ten dollars if you asked for it . Period. He is a simple person who has for all his life somehow managed to maintain that measure of childlike wonder we all lose as we grow older. He’s just plain good.

I went to Calgary last spring when I learned about his condition and I could tell that even though the disease was in its early stages, it had changed him. He walks with a cane. He’s lost sight in one eye. He can’t remember a lot of what made he and I the best of friends. The last thing he told me as I hopped into my car last Victoria Day weekend broke my heart. (It still does.) He said, “Look … Sean … I don’t know how much longer I’ve got.”

And I cut him off. I raised a hand and cut him off because I wasn’t prepared to discuss his dying. I said, “I know … just day by day, brother. Day by day.”

We Skype now. And every time I see him on my screen, I know I’m losing my best friend. It’s more noticeable now because his wife is doing most of the talking. But my friend still has that twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He’s still there … I can see it in his eyes.  I just don’t know for how much longer.

I’m going to visit him in the next little while. I’ll just sit across the living room and be there because he was there through all my trials and tribulations. He is a better friend to me than I ever was to  him and that probably makes me an asshole on a galactic scale.

I think I will take him for a drive when I go to see him if his wife gives me the all clear. We’ll bomb around the city, this time with my friend riding shotgun. We’ll look at cars in the car lots and maybe we might even catch a glimpse of a 1967 Fleetwood Cadillac. I want to do this before it’s too late. I need to do this while he still has that twinkle in his one good eye because I’ll know that he’ll know that he is my best friend … the best friend I could have ever hoped for.

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The Blog Post About Why You’re Writing

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It’s early Thursday morning and there are less than thirty days until Spring arrives. And with Spring comes Spring cleaning, gardening, house repair and any number of things that you have to do because they aren’t going to get done if you don’t. I’m always at my most productive during the winter months. Here in Saskatchewan we experience the kind of extreme cold during the winter that makes you stay the hell indoors. This winter we experienced the coldest December in one hundred years with daytime highs reaching -30 Celsius for most of the month. January started off insanely cold and warmed up for two weeks – then it got stupid cold again. February has been pretty much as cold as December was. And it’s dark. The sun doesn’t come up until nearly nine in the morning – you go to work in the dark and you come home in the dark for half the winter out here on the prairie.

So when it’s too cold to even think about venturing outdoors. When the dark makes you stand in front of a lamp to remind you of what light looks like, well, for me at least – that’s when I’m writing my ass off. I experiment with ideas that pop into my head. I write paragraphs and even whole “idea chapters” as I like to call them – just to see if there’s anything there. That’s my litmus test for generating a sense of excitement about what I’m doing. All of my books started out like that – “idea chapters” that went on to becoming a completed manuscript.

I’ll admit that it’s easier now to write than it was ten years ago. Partly because I’ve become a better writer, but mostly because I managed to get published, find an agent, and get published again … twice. Before I had an agent – before I had a publishing credit, I was like every other writer out there with dreams of getting a book deal. I questioned the quality of my writing. I questioned whether I actually had the chops to make a go of it. Because finding a publisher or landing a literary agent was and still is so unbelievably hard to do.  Now it’s not so hard because I’ve got an agent and I can fire off an email with a sample chapter to get her feedback. The email usually goes like this:

Good morning, Jenny – just wanted to get your thoughts on this. It might suck.

Best,

Sean!

How cool is that? I can fire off a quick email to one of those gatekeepers we keep hearing about and she’ll tell me what she thinks about what I’ve written. (And she isn’t getting paid for her insight. My agent’s pay comes when we sell a project so I never, ever, ever, ever take this fact for granted. She’s personally and professionally invested in my success because she’s got a mortgage and kids to put through school.)

It’s so much harder for an unpublished writer to get that kind of feedback – actually, it’s impossible. My agent works IN the industry. Unpublished writers don’t have industry professionals to get a no-holds-barred opinion. Lately there’s been a hell of a lot of “self-publishing is the wave of the future gatekeepers are evil bla bla bla” stuff on the web. I’m just not confident enough of a writer to go it alone. My agent’s feedback, the readers my agency hires to read my stuff – that’s industry feedback and it’s based on the idea that whatever I am writing, it’s gotta sell on top of being a good story. This reality keeps me focused on becoming a better author and reinforces the very idea that I might actually, you know, not suck at penning novels.

Why do I write? Because it makes me feel good about me. I know  … that’s probably pretty selfish, but it’s the truth. I write because I want to succeed both professionally and financially as an author. Those little successes I’ve achieved so far aren’t little at all when you think about it. Getting published is hard freaking work. Finding an agent is hard freaking work and I wouldn’t trade where I am now for anything.

I’ve encountered a lot of people who are right now where I was ten years ago. I have a little writer’s meetup here in Saskatoon. We get together monthly over coffee and the reason I started it up was to help unpublished writers by pushing them to get that damned project written. To cut the distractions in their life into little manageable bits and to focus on a game plan for their project. And I ask them, each month … why are you writing? Why do you want to get published? I want them to answer that question with complete honesty because that honest answer is what you cling to when the going gets tough.

I know a lot of bloggers who want to get published. They have wonderful book blogs and fabulous social media skills. Occasionally they will seek my input into something they are writing which I am always happy to offer – not that I’m some kind of literary whiz kid … I’m not. My agent kicks my ass all the time for stupid author mistakes. But I’m way ahead of those blogger/authors on my book journey and I guess some people actually look up to me in that regard. And I tell those blogger/authors: less blogging, less social media … more writing. If you want to get published, you gotta focus on what the end game is going to be and you need to minimize anything that is a distraction to your work.

You have to banish that little voice in the back of your head  – the one that says you suck on an epic scale. You have to visualize what getting “the call” looks like. (Mine happened in a Tim Horton’s parking lot at 3 AM because London is seven hours ahead of us.) You have to visualize what it means to be published and you need to have an honest assessment of what your priorities are in the here and now.

Yep, you might not get an agent or get a book deal. Hell, I might never sell another book to a publisher, but I keep pushing on and so should you if you have dreams of being a published author. Sure, you could self-publish. If you can make a go of it and you’re confident enough in your work to put it out to the universe on Kindle Direct Publishing, I say go for it. For me, I’m still not that sure of myself. I need that gatekeeper feedback. I need a good editor. I need the support that I get from those industry professionals who’ve invested so much of their time in my success.

And I owe them all. I owe them big time. I owe them a best seller for having believed in me enough to take a chance on my work.

Why am I writing? Because I want to get to the next step in my journey. Why are you writing and what is your end game in all of this? If you can answer that question. If you can visualize success, even small success, then you might be able to dig into the project you’ve been struggling with and get the damned thing written.

Just write.

Just keep writing. Make it your central focus. Believe that you can do it even though the odds are stacked against you. And if you meet with some success, for crying out loud, keep on writing.

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The Blog Posting Wherein I Remove Myself from the Self-Publishing Debate

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It all started with my smart phone, you see. It buzzed and then a little blue light came on telling me that I should pick up my phone, which I did. A quick swipe told me that Twitter wanted me so I swiped the app and learned that my blog posting entitled “Two Years since My Book Deal: What Have I Learned” was being featured on a blog about self-publishing entitled, The Passive Voice.

Cool, I thought. Someone actually noticed my blog! (I don’t get boatloads of comments because I’m still a relative unknown in the book world, but I try to blog regularly because I do have a few people that like to interact with me.) Exciting, right? Anyway, I clicked on the link and to my surprise, I found not my entire blog posting, just lifted portions and that’s about it. I should also add that nobody asked me if they could quote my blog in their blog post. Confused yet?

Fine, I thought. Let ’em quote my blog post. Then I scrolled down and read the comments. This led, of course, to me putting in my two cents and VOILA! Forty-some comments later and I learn that I’m basically a twat, I’m misinformed and apparently, living on another planet entirely.

I consider myself reasonably social media savvy. It’s pretty clear that I’m not and my mistake was in commenting and engaging the self-publishing folk.  Now, I’ve said on this blog many times that I don’t recommend self-publishing but that was based on my interactions with some authors who’ve met with little success self-publishing a book. I have said, and will continue to say, that many many many many (see … I didn’t say “most” this time) self-published books are atrocious because it’s true. In fairness, many many traditionally published books aren’t all that shit hot either, but at least they have better cover art.

Look, to all the people who think I’m an ill-informed twat because of my blog post and because of my comments on The Passive Voice, get a life. No, seriously … get a life. If you feel threatened by the observations from a tiny wee little blog written by a bald author who has had marginal success in traditional publishing, you really are barking up the wrong tree. I’m about as influential in the publishing world and in the blogosphere as Canada is at middle eastern diplomacy.

I have had a small measure of success in traditional publishing, but I’m no expert and I often express this point of view in my blog posts. I don’t take myself seriously nor should you or anyone because I write bubble gum. I write books about magic and slamming evil and I admit regularly that I suck at writing romance. I have been writing all my life and I’ve been trying to get published since my soon to be 24 year old son was in diapers and there was no Internet or LOLCats. The reason I wanted to try to get published? To see if I could do it. The reason I sought a literary agent? To see if I could land one.

I’m also the first person to point out that I consider myself to be pretty damned lucky, by the way. I’m my worst critic. I think that everything I write is worse than the worst dinosaur erotica novel currently available on Amazon. I am grateful to a lot of people, mostly my wife who thinks I have some talent and my literary agent who has gone to the freaking wall for me. I’m blessed to have met amazing, wonderful people during my publishing journey. My latest books took me to England two years running and I got to watch Chelsea play my beloved Norwich City FC (who are in a relegation battle right now).

I wasn’t asked if my blog post could be featured on another blog. (There’s a copyright notice at the bottom of this page. Scroll down and you will see it.) I didn’t ask for the attention of the Passive Voice. It’s clear that  I poked the beast with a stick once I decided to engage with you all. My bad. I’m 46 and I should know better.

I’ll take this time to apologize to the self-publishing tribe on The Passive Voice if my comments antagonized you.  If self-publishing is your writing journey of choice and you’re happy with it, then good on you! Make as much money as you can and enjoy your creative control as you become the next J.K. Rowling. I will say this much though: nobody is served well by vitriolic statements and baby, there’s a ton of vitriol in the comment section. I could take a bath in it.

And I contributed to it by engaging your tribe.

My experience with traditional publishing has been just that: my experience. Everything I write on my blog is from my own point of view. I’ve had ups, downs and in-betweens in the world of publishing. But do you want to know something? I’m not ready to become the next big self-publishing phenomenon because I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be and I rely heavily on the insight of those so-called gatekeepers your tribe dislikes so much. I need my agent to kick my ass because it makes me a better author. I need an editor at a publishing house to do things like, oh, remind me that teenagers swear, for example. I suck at photoshop and I need a good cover artist. I need a lot of things, but what I don’t need is to be distracted from writing my next book.

So, I bid you adieu, self-publishing tribe. Good luck on your journey and you know, maybe tone down the rhetoric because it’s a total buzz kill.

Peace out, yo.

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