Saturday, 29 December 2012

Wannabe Rock Star

About ten years ago someone gave my mother an old upright piano. This act inspired her to take lessons, something she had wanted to do since she was a child. The lessons made her realize that learning to play the piano at a certain age isn’t the easiest thing to do. That old piano was used sparingly over the years, never getting a chance to really flourish…until this past holiday season.

My parents had a couple of Japanese students staying with them for Christmas. It was billed overseas as “Christmas in Canada” and children aged ten to sixteen had flocked to the Fraser Valley to get a taste of our indulgent Canadian-centric festivities. The two girls my parents took in were 14 and 15 years old. And the younger of the two girls was a bit of a piano prodigy, having started playing when she was two.

Because the girls could barely speak English (and because they were both probably quite nervous), they were drawn to the old piano. The piano may have been out of tune and a few of the keys may have played softer than the rest, but when the younger girl placed her fingers on the keys and began to play, you would never have known what state the piano was in. As she played, the richest, most beautiful music filled my parents’ home. It sounded like a recording it was so perfect. It made us laugh. It made us well up. It made us all wish we had sucked it up and learned to play an instrument when we were younger.

But it’s not like my parents didn’t try.

They pleaded with the six-year-old me to play the piano, or the guitar, or the saxophone. But the six-year-old me wanted nothing to do with sounds that weren’t made by firecrackers or pucks being hit against sticks. Four years later I threw them a bone and joined band class. My weapon of choice: the trombone. My adventure with the trombone lasted exactly eight months. It was an awkward instrument and I was heading into that awkward phase in a boy’s life. Too many awkwards meant a lot of screaming and yelling and hating everything…including the trombone.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized what I had lost by not learning to play an instrument. It was the same realization I had had about not learning another language. Music, like language, is a form of communication. The more forms of communication we have, the richer our lives are. The richness comes from our ability to interact and connect with more people. I write, because it is one of the few ways I can connect with the world outside of my small world here in Vancouver.

When I was in my twenties I was given an old computer filled with music production software. A lot of loop-based programs and drum sampler thingamajigs and what not. I got a kick out of playing around with them. And that playing around eventually turned into an all-encompassing obsession. When I wasn’t working, or in school, I was “composing.” But the static loops and in-program instruments I was using to compose my “masterpieces” quickly got boring. So I bought a beat-up electric keyboard at Value Village and I got a microphone and I began to teach myself to play the piano so I could incorporate original music samples into my “compositions.”

At the time I was listening to a lot of MOBY and BOARDS OF CANADA and APHEX TWIN and THE ORB. I wanted to make music just like them. I couldn’t read a note of music, but that didn’t stop me. I have a bit of an ear for sound, so I made up my own notes and chords and began placing my recordings into my computer. Over the next four years I “composed” hundreds of original tracks. Some of the tracks could even be listened to more than once. One of those tracks was called THE DYING WEED.

Before YouTube and iTunes, there was a progressive and brilliant website/television program here in Canada produced by the CBC called ZeD. The concept behind Zed was that artists of every discipline could upload their creations to the ZeD website and potentially have their creations seen by a national audience. You see, the late-night TV show would acquire its content from those submissions. I uploaded my track THE DYING WEED on a whim and to my surprise they aired it as part of an ambient mix, and they even paid me for it. It was the first time I was ever paid for something I had created. Of course, it also made me believe I was a better musician than I actually was.

When I finally realized music wasn’t my forte, I wasn’t sad to let the “composing” go. What I couldn’t let go of was that yearning to properly play an instrument. I’ve been at parties where someone sits down at a piano, or pulls out a guitar and starts playing. It is a magical thing. People stop what they’re doing and pay attention. They get invested. They get moved. I still wanted another way to move people. A couple of years ago I took the plunge and bought a real piano and began taking lessons. But I, too, quickly found out just how difficult it is learning to play an instrument as an adult. The frustration of my clumsy fingers and my slow adult brain made me neglect the practice needed to progress. And eventually, made me neglect my piano altogether…until I heard the little Japanese girl play my mother’s piano over the holidays.

 I knew I had to go back and give my piano the attention it deserved. I’m never going to be a rock star, but I know there’s a musician somewhere inside of me dying to get out. And even if I’m the only one who ever hears this musician, he deserves to be heard.

Here are a couple of my more accessible “compositions.


Opals




Pori

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Why I Grow My Mo

One look at me and you'd think I was the spawn of a werewolf. Or a Sasquatch. Yeah, I'm a pretty hairy fellow. When I was younger, I was super sensitive about my body hair...even embarrassed by it. But now, it's just a part of my character. And when November rolls around, I don't just appreciate my body hair...

I take full advantage of it.

Yes, it is Movember and for the second year I will be growing my moustache to raise money for men's health awareness, particularly prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer has impacted my life directly, taking a grandfather from me when I was very young. I was lucky enough to remember my grandfather and create a few good memories. But I wish there were more...

I don't want anyone else to lose a loved one to prostate cancer, so for the next month I will grow the biggest, bushiest moustache in the hopes that you will donate something (anything) to this great cause.

To donate to my moustache, please click the link: www.mobro.co/millinstacheattack

To learn more about Movember and where the raised money goes, please click the link: http://ca.movember.com/about/

Last year's progress:

Day 1

Day 20

Day 30
My moustache thanks you.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

My New York State of Mind

When I was fifteen I created a (sort of) Bucket List of countries and cities I wanted to visit before I died. It wasn't a grand list, because even at that young age, I wasn't interested in hot places, but it was a list nonetheless. And in some small way, that list that I made when I was fifteen contributed to the path I took in life.

My first great journey happened a couple years after making the list when I moved to Finland for a year. While I was there I was fortunate enough to see parts of Sweden and Russia, knocking three countries off my list.

Almost twenty years later I had seen every country/place on my list except for two. Until a couple of weeks ago.

Even at a young age New York seemed like a magical place to me. It seemed BIG and bright and creative and inspiring. As a want-to-be writer, it also seemed like the place I needed to be to make it. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, right? And besides, all the big publishing houses and literary agents were (and mostly still are) in New York. So when my girlfriend Jane suggested we save up and take a trip to New York in September, I knew I couldn't say no. I had been letting my problems and concerns (my everyday life) get in the way of this trip for way too long.

During our week in New York, we stayed in an apartment in Greenwich Village. Every time we walked out onto Bedford Street and into the Village, I felt like I was walking onto a movie set of every New York-centric movie I had ever seen (at least, the less grittier ones). I felt safe and alive. So many restaurants. So many bakeries and bars. So many people... So much history.

New York was everything I hoped it would be and more. I only spent a week there, but I knew coming home that I'd be back again. I crammed as much as I possibly could into the week, but I never got out of Manhattan (except for a jaunt over the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn for about thirty minutes). And even then, the time I spent at the museums/parks/bookstores/libraries I went to, wasn't near enough time to adequately take them all in.

So how can I not go back?

I HEART New York!

View from ferry to Liberty Island

New World Trade Center Building

Part of the 9/11 Memorial

Pianist in Washington Square Park




Brooklyn Bridge

Beautiful architecture seen from Brooklyn Bridge

Beautiful and grand buildings everywhere

Reflection off the MoMA

Seen from the High Line

Seen from the High Line

Beautiful architecture seen in the financial district

Jane and I in Central Park

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Something Far Worse Than A Mosquito Bite

During my Crow Toes Quarterly days, along with publishing the magazine I wrote a complimentary blog (under the guise of The Narrator) that told the stories in-between the publication of each issue. Because my staff was fictional, these stories were as fantastic and terrifying as any of the stories in the magazine. I tried to write a new story every week, but I quickly found my creative well empty. After suffering from an intense bout of writer's block for almost three weeks I tried something different...I tried writing a story about my writer's block and how I would make myself get through it. As I seem to be suffering from a wee bit o' the block now, I thought I'd return to that piece I wrote...and share it with you, just in case you're looking for a little inspiration.

*****

I am suffering from something far worse than the flu...far worse than a pounding headache, or multiple mosquito bites. I am suffering from an extremely uncomfortable case of writer’s block. It is now going on three weeks and I’m afraid I’m never going to get rid of it. It is...my worst nightmare come to life.

The symptoms of writer’s block aren’t hard to miss: excessive tapping of fingers, gnashing teeth, constant yowls of, “ohhhhh”, walking in circles, opening and closing fridge doors, loss of hair (from pulling it too much), an inability to focus, finger cramps from hitting the delete/backspace button too much, brain cramps and persistent daydreaming.

To prove to you just how bad my writer’s block is, the two paragraphs above this one took me two weeks to write. I can’t imagine how long the rest of this blog entry is going to take. I better brew me another pot of coffee and heat up some cream of broccoli soup, because I’m not leaving this office until I’m done.

By all accounts, I should be a fountain of creativity right now. The Meddlesome Monster crew is gone and to thank us for our "hospitality" they’ve loaded up our office with great props (like a fifteen-foot laser cannon made out of balsa wood and modeling clay and a twelve-foot long rubber tentacle covered in plastic suction cups). The Fifteenth Issue is finally available and is one of our most creative issues ever. And if that isn’t enough, Christopher has been regaling us with dozens of amazing stories from this year’s Word on the Street in Vancouver, BC.

Words should be pouring out of my fingers and brain as easily as water pours out of a tap. But they aren’t.

My big concern (other than not being able to write without great difficulty) is where I caught this writer’s block from and whether or not I’m contagious. I would hate for Poinsettia to catch it, especially now when she’s so deep into her story about the Jersey Devil. Will wearing a mask and locking myself away in my office keep everyone else safe? I just don’t know.

If there was a pill or magic elixir that would make it all go away I would buy it no matter how much it cost. But alas, no one has been able to invent such a pill or elixir. It looks like the thousands of websites devoted to beating writer’s block are my only option. They are filled with great ideas (which are kind of like pills, but in word form), which fills me with hope. So I will push on, trying out a few of these ideas and hopefully I will bust that block into a billion tiny pieces. Hopefully...

Idea #1: Write! Write! Write! It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Just start tapping away on that keyboard or writing away with that pen about anything and everything that comes to your head. Some folks call it stream of consciousness writing. I call it literary gobbeldygoop. The idea is relatable to pouring drain cleaner down a clogged drain. The stuff smells funny and burns the eyes slightly, but its purpose is to loosen up all that gunk in there and get the good stuff flowing again.

Write! Write! Write! Alright...there is a little spider crawling along the top of my keyboard right now. He has seven legs, which leads me to believe he had some sort of accident. Maybe a faulty web sent him tumbling to the floor. Maybe he fell into the crease between the F11 key and the F10 key and his leg was left behind. Just this morning on my walk to work I was stuck behind two large dogs walking a man. My favourite hot dog condiment is a mixture of melted cheese and salsa. If I ever clear this writer’s block I think I’ll make the CTQ Staff hot dogs. Well now, I don’t know if my writer’s block is gone, but I sure am hungry all of a sudden.

Idea #2: Pick an object or emotion that you are excited about and write a paragraph about it. This focuses your thoughts and gives you a solid, achievable goal. It shouldn’t be hard to write about something that excites me. Right?

If I had to tell you about all the things I like on this planet, we’d be here all day listing things off. I could tell you about root beer or pencil shavings or those ice-cream treats that are shaped like ghosts and have gumballs as mouths. I could tell you about porcupines or pine cones or conifer trees. I could even tell you about that funny sound the refrigerator makes when it thinks nobody is listening, because that sound is one of my favourite things, too. But I think I’ll tell you about something you’ve probably never heard of before. It’s called ozimby and it is a fruit grown on ERzoG-8’s home planet. It is shaped like a corn cob and even has a husk like a cob of corn, but it is nothing like corn. It is soft like a banana and tastes like a cross between a cantaloupe and a sweet potato. I’m sure that sounds a little repulsive to you, but take my word for it...it is delicious, especially when eaten with whipped cream and melted marshmallows. Ozimby only grows during a two-week period in what is equivalent to our Fall and it has to have precise atmospheric conditions for it to grow. Sometimes farmers go years without growing ozimby, because the wind wasn’t blowing the right way or the temperature was a quarter of a degree colder than it should have been. Because ozimby is so hard to grow, it is also very expensive...which makes it even more desirable.

Thinking about ozimby is making my mouth water and my stomach rumble. Maybe I should move on to the next idea.

Idea #3: Ask a friend or coworker to tell you a story about something unusual or interesting that happened to them that day, and after they’re finished talking, write down their story from memory filling in the blanks with your own ideas. Even the smallest idea can be expanded into something great and sometimes it is just that idea the brain needs to clear the block.

Ogilvy has a tendency to walk with his head pointing up at the clouds and his mouth wide open. This has lead to many strange things ending up in his mouth: water balloons, leaves, paper airplanes, roof shingles and even flies. This morning, he walked to work the same way he does every morning: head up, mouth open. He was looking up at a cloud shaped like a toaster oven when he felt something crash against the back of his mouth. At first he thought it was a large ball of hail, but then he heard a revving sound in his mouth and tasted burning smoke. He stuck his grubby fingers in his mouth and felt something that was the size and shape of a walnut. He clamped onto it with his thumb and index finger and he pulled, but the thing would not move. And the harder he pulled, the more it hurt him. Whatever was in his mouth was stuck. He quickly ran to the nearest public washroom and looked in the mirror. When he opened wide and looked inside he saw a most amazing sight. It was a tiny spaceship and its landing gear was caught between his back two molars.

Hmmm...this actually has the potential to be a pretty good story. I think it deserves a whole blog post to itself. Don’t you? Maybe I’ll hold onto it for later when I am completely healed. One more spoonful of literary medicine should do it.

Idea #4: Reread the work of your favourite author. The hope is that their creative and clever words, which have meant so much to you in the past, will inspire you again to pick up a pen or sit down at your computer and write.

It has been two days since I wrote the paragraph above and I have reread all thirteen books in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket. I’ve also reread my three favourite Roald Dahl books and my two favourite books in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis. My eyes hurt. I’m running on little sleep and I’m confusing Buckets with Baudelaires.

But I think all the hard work has paid off. I am suddenly inspired to tell you about our adventure to the costume shop to pick out our Halloween costumes. It is the story I meant to tell before I was struck with writer’s block. It is a story about mistaken identities, hairless werewolves and confused ravens that caw, “Always more! Always more!” It is a story that is clawing at my brain trying to get out. And I am so ready to free it.

So without further ado...


Excerpt from CROW TOES QUARTERLY: TALES FROM A PLAYFULLY DARK WORLD available on iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and all those other great places you can get eBooks.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

When I Say Cheese, You Say Brains - Vancouver Zombie Walk 2012

For a few hours the streets of Vancouver, BC, were overrun with zombies...and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I say it's time we let zombies run free! It seems so unfair that for the rest of the year they are hunted down and destroyed. Inside, they're just like you and me...minus the living part. Here's a few pictures I shot at the walk.


























Saturday, 30 June 2012

"The Balthazar Experiment" Experiment

One of my goals as a writer was to write a middle-grade science fiction novel. I've always loved sci-fi. I love the idea of SPACE and I love robots and hoverboards and phasers set to stun and all of that techie goodness. But I had no idea of the intricacies of these things. Therefore, I knew writing a sci-fi novel for kids would be a great challenge for me.

As I was writing my series of books called THE HOLE STORIES, in the back of my mind I kept seeing this robotic finger running down the cheek of a very young boy. The boy was looking up with adoration and love in his eyes. What I was seeing had nothing to do with what I was writing, so I stored it away.

When I stepped away from THE HOLE STORIES for a while, I decided to pursue the story behind the strange, touching image locked away inside of me. I spent several months researching robotics and space exploration and climate change and I cobbled together several dozen pages of notes (and facts) I would use in my story. I outlined my first six chapters in detail and began to write.

I like to think I have an organic style of writing. Usually, I have an idea in my head as to where I want my characters to end up, but how they get to that end can change from day to day depending on how I am feeling. I had never outlined any of my chapters before, so when my story started to take on a life of its own, moving in and out of my outline, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. After writing my first few chapters, I was actually getting frustrated with the lack of control I had over the novel (which is strange, because it is that organic, lack of control I usually love). This frustration quickly turned into writer's block. Like so many other novels before it, my just begun sci-fi story for kids ended up in my DEAD STORY FOLDER. It was easier, at the time, to move on to something else than to pull all of my hair out trying to break through the wall I had inadvertently built in front of me.

When my adventure with THE HOLE STORIES finally ended, I was looking for something new to write. My book of ideas was full of potential, but nothing was grabbing my attention...making me want to invest. And then one night a few weeks back that image appeared in my head again...that robotic finger running down a young boy's cheek. Because I had fleshed this scene out a couple of years back, I knew a bit of the back story behind it. I also knew I was being told (by my characters...my subconscious) to finish the book. I printed out a copy of what I had written to date and I read it and I couldn't believe how gripped I was by what I had written.

Writers are usually quite humble about what they have written (at least I am). I'm usually happy with what I write, but I will always tell people that I could have written it better. I was suddenly very excited about what I had written and a new feeling was welling up inside of me: anticipation. I couldn't wait to see how the story was going to end. Unfortunately, I was still suffering from that darned thing called "writer's block." Maybe you've heard of it.

When I decided how I wanted my "writing career" to move forward, and the stress of trying to get published again and making money from my words disappeared, I opened myself up to a whole new way of writing...a whole new enjoyment. And because my motivation to write had changed, I decided to do a little literary experiment to try to finish my first work of science fiction. I decided to put a little healthy pressure on myself (for I have always worked best under pressure) and write it as an online serial novel. That way, when I get to the point where I am stuck, timeliness (and hopefully, your interest) will help me move it forward.

The novel is called THE BALTHAZAR EXPERIMENT and beginning Monday, July 2nd, 2012, I will upload a new chapter every Monday until the book comes to a proper conclusion. Right now, a conclusion is in my mind, but as I said above, how we get to it is all up to fate, my fluctuating emotions and constructive comments from my readers.

So put on your helmets, strap on your jetpacks and join me, if you will...in the stars.

www.thebalthazarexperiment.com

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Waiting for a Swine... I Mean a Sign

Book One of my planned five-book middle-grade series THE HOLE STORIES was published in May 2007 by Thistledown Press. As the years passed by, my five-book series became a trilogy and I began to play a waiting game for the sequel to be published. FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE was written and ready for the world, but I couldn't get an answer from anyone as to whether it would ever see the world. After five years of waiting, I decided I would have to be the one to deliver it. The people who had read the first book wanted to know what happens next. They wanted to know about the strange swans alluded to at the end of the first book.

When I opened the box of books (that arrived by mail only a day ago) and flipped through the pages, I realized I had made the right choice doing it my way. The book looks and reads beautifully. And even though FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE has been available as an eBook for the past seven months, there is something new and exciting about reading it in paperback form.

These very special, very limited paperback editions of FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE are only available through my online store. Get your copy now! And for a short time, you can also purchase signed copies of my first novel THE KING OF ARUGULA.


Fowl, Swine and Things That Send Shivers Down Your Spine
(Very Limited) Paperback Edition
Only Available At



Excerpt from 
FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE
By Christopher Millin

And when Onus woke, the sun was warming his forehead.

He turned to see Twig’s eyes fluttering.

“How long have we been sleeping?” Twig asked when he noticed Onus looking at him.

“I don’t know,” Onus said. “Oh wait. I’ve got the watch Fang left me last night.”

He dug around in his pocket and pulled out the watch. “That’s odd,” he said.

“What’s odd?” Twig said.

“The watch must be broken, because it has the same time on it as when I looked at it last night. 11:49.”

“Well maybe it’s that time now. Just a.m. instead of p.m.”

“Nope,” Onus said. “The watch says 11:49 p.m.”

But the time no longer concerned Twig. “Where…where are we?” he asked.

The sidecar had stopped rocking. It had stopped floating. It had stopped. It was buried in the dirt and sand along a muddy beach. It was a muddy beach that stretched for miles and miles along what the boys could now see was a river. Water from the river lapped up against the back of the sidecar, like it was trying to spit the sidecar even further up on the beach, like the sidecar tasted bitter, or it was just too big to swallow.

“We fell asleep, Twig. Who knows how far we floated,” Onus said. “We have to find a phone.”

“Shouldn’t we find out where we are first?” Twig asked.

Onus jumped out of the sidecar. His feet sunk into the mud, but with a little effort he was able to pull one out. It made a funny suction sound, kind of like the sound Twig made after he ate too many beans. “Phooot.” He pulled the other foot out and it made the same sound. “Phooot.” Slowly, he walked towards a big hill of rocks just up the beach from where the sidecar had beached itself.

Phooot. Phooot. Phooot. Phooot.

“Hey, Onus,” Twig said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to find out where we are and then I’m going to find a phone.”

Twig took off his helmet and jumped out of the sidecar. His feet sunk as well. His feet sunk even deeper than Onus’s feet. His feet had sunk so deep that he couldn’t pull them out like Onus had. He couldn’t make them make that funny suction sound that Onus’s feet were making.

“Onus, I’m stuck.”

“Use your hands,” Onus said.

“What do you mean?”

“Wrap your hands around your knee and use the strength of your arms to lift your foot out of the mud.”

“Of course,” Twig said.

He grabbed under his knee and using all his strength he pulled upwards.

Phhhhoooooooooooottttt.

“I got it!” Twig yelled. He put his hands underneath his other knee and lifted upwards.

Phhhhoooooooooooottttt.

Each step he took, it seemed his feet sunk a little deeper. “How come your feet aren’t sinking as deep as mine, Onus?”

Onus looked back at Twig. “I guess you weigh more than me. Heavier objects are naturally going to sink deeper.”

But Twig couldn’t figure out how he could weigh more than Onus. Twig essentially was a twig. Even though he was older than Onus, he was skinnier and he had a smaller shoe size than Onus. By the time Twig met Onus at the bottom of the hill of rocks he was exhausted. What would have taken less than a few seconds on paved ground, took him a whole five minutes. It was five minutes of lifting one leg and then lifting the other. Lifting one leg, then lifting the other. Lifting one leg, then lifting the other. You get the point. And as I’m sure you know, a leg weighs quite a bit, even if it’s just made of flesh and bone.

The rock hill was as high as a basketball hoop, an easy enough climb if you hadn’t just spent the last five minutes lifting your legs out of the mud they had been continuously sinking into. “I need to rest for a second, Onus.”

“That’s odd, Twig. I really thought I weighed more than you,” Onus said.

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

“I should have sunk just as deep, if not deeper than you had.”

“You should have sunk just as deep, if not deeper than I had.”

Something near the river breathed a deep breath. The boys stopped talking. They both looked down near the river where the sidecar was stuck. The muddy beach began to move. It caved in and they heard the breathing sound again. Then the beach filled back up with mud and sand. It was like the ground below them had begun to breath. Up and down it moved, like your chest when you are breathing. Up down. Up down. The sidecar was moving now, rocking back and forth. Rocking back and forth. And with each breath the beach took, the sidecar sunk a little. Sinking. Sinking. Sinking. And within seconds it was gone, swallowed up, breathed in, nowhere to be seen.

“We’ve got to climb the rocks now,” Onus yelled.

“But I’m so tired,” Twig said.

All along the river’s beach things were being swallowed up. Driftwood went under. Piles of stones went under. The skeletons of large fish went under. The beach was eating up everything it could…everything that was lying on top of it.

“If we don’t climb the rocks now the beach is going to eat us, too,” Onus said.

He grabbed a hold of a rock and started to climb. The rocks were sharp and rough, but the slight pain in his hands was a lot better than the extreme pain of being swallowed by a beach that seemed to have a taste for everything. If it could eat a motorcycle’s sidecar, it could surely eat a ten-year-old boy.

He climbed half way up the hill and looked back to see Twig still catching his breath. A large tree branch just beyond Twig disappeared under the ground. “Twig, hurry up and climb!” Onus yelled.

Twig turned just in time to see the end of the branch go under. The time he had to catch his breath was now officially over. If he waited any longer he would end up like the tree branch. Gone. He grabbed a rock and tried to start climbing, but he was stuck. The beach had a hold of his left foot. It swallowed his foot and began swallowing his whole leg.

“It’s got me, Onus! Help!”

©Christopher Millin 2012

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Whole Story Behind The Hole Stories (or How I Fell Into a Hole and Found My Way Out)

With the release of THE HEALING SAND, Book Three in The Hole Stories, a personal eight-year journey, almost as epic as that of the characters in the book, has come to an end. Though I didn't have to battle any hyper monkeys, jumbo jet sized worms or one-eyed villains on my journey, I did experience some of the greatest highs and lowest lows in my life along the way.

This is the story of how I fell into a hole and found my way out of it through words, through strange conversations with mysterious men, and through the positivity and sticktoitiveness of two ten-year-old boys named Onus and Twig.

THE HOLE STORIES began with a dream in 2004. But before I talk about that dream I must talk about my entire life as a writer before that. It began as most writer's lives begin: with a Creative Writing teacher and a handful of friends (who had seen the few things I had written) telling me I could really write. Yeah, bad poetry and stories with way too much swearing in them! That's what I'd say back. But positive reinforcement has a way of infecting even the most skeptical.

When high school ended I had this crazy idea for a book and I really believed I could make it work...and make it the greatest book ever written. I toiled over this 'masterpiece' for almost five years and when I finally wrote the words THE END, I had never believed in myself more as a writer. The book was a ridiculous 120,000 words long and was loosely based on my upbringing in the uber-religious Fraser Valley. I was so excited I packaged it up and mailed it off to two dozen publishing houses and agents. As the self addressed stamped envelopes came pouring back in with two dozen different ways to say, "No thanks" written on them, I began to question myself and my friends. But I did not give up on words. How could I? I loved them, despite seriously butchering them at times (which I still tend to do when I don't take the time to properly edit what I've written).

So I switched my focus from fiction to real life. I enrolled in a Journalism program and spent two years learning how to edit, research and ultimately, write. And I learned to love the writing process. What I didn't love was the being a 'Nosey-Nellie' process. I quickly realized I wasn't aggressive (or some might say rude) enough to be an effective journalist. I didn't like asking people questions they didn't want to answer. So I returned to school and took creative fiction and non-fiction courses and I learned the art of short-story writing. I had a piece of flash fiction published in a Canadian Lit mag and I started a new novel loosely based on my experiences as an assistant wedding photographer. Again, my teachers pumped up my ego by telling me I could really write. And so I returned to my 'Odyssey' (which was actually called DIVERSIONS), editing it over and over again, now with a bit more life experience behind me to help me along the way. My queries and submissions for the book suffered the same fate as before, leaving me on a very thin precipice.

I so wanted to write fiction, but the truth was becoming harder and harder to ignore; I just couldn't do it the way I thought I could. And when I was about to put the pen down for good (yes, I would actually hand write a lot of my stories back then), I crossed paths with Lemony Snicket. I didn't physically bump into the man, but I spotted a young cousin reading his first Unfortunate Event, THE BAD BEGINNING, and I was instantly drawn to the book. Perhaps it was the cover image of the ominous character in shadow (Count Olaf) staring down on the three children at his door, or perhaps it was the book itself,  a jacket-less beige hardcover with a navy blue spine, or perhaps it was the way my cousin's eyes never left the pages, even as people tried to engage her in conversation. When she finally did look up, I asked her what she was reading. Her enthusiasm for the book sold me. I read the book in two hours and when I was done I thought to myself, I can do this.

So back to that dream I had. It was 2004 and I was still ho-humming about what I wanted to be when I grew up (even though I was a well-lived 28 year-old man by then): journalist, teacher, photographer, editor...writer. I was planning a wedding with the girl I had been with for almost five years (well, she was planning the wedding and I was nodding my head up and down a lot). And I had just finished reading Lemony Snicket's THE BAD BEGINNING and had had the thought that maybe I could try my hand at writing for children. And that very night after I finished the book I had one of the most vivid dream's of my life.

I dreamed that I was walking through a forest daydreaming, when I fell into a very deep, very dark hole. But I wasn't alone when I hit the bottom of the hole. There was a man at the bottom of the hole and he had been there for a very long time. I asked him how he ended up in the hole, and then my dream shifted to a road in front of a castle-like mansion. There were all these police officers hobbling around their squad cars. They were hobbling, because they all had prosthetic legs...but they weren't normal prosthetic legs. Not at all! They were legs made out of wood. When I woke up I jotted down the details of these dreams and I got to work on my first middle-grade novel. Six months later I was married, I was still floating in career limbo and I was putting the finishing touches on the novel I had titled THE KING OF ARUGULA, Book One of The Hole Stories.

But I didn't want to rush this one out like had done with my first novel. I wanted to take my time with it and make sure it was in the best possible shape it could be in. I sent it to an artist friend of mine in Finland and he was inspired to create some rough artwork for it, which I instantly fell in love with (sadly, this work never made it into the book...but I will share some of it with YOU). With the artwork and some lengthy excerpts in hand, I travelled to the classrooms of friends who had become elementary school teachers. I read my book excerpts to a range of nine to twelve year olds and I asked them what they liked and what they didn't like; what worked and what didn't work. I continued doing this for almost a year.

Concept illustration of Onus and William Ernest Fang by Kai Johansson.

Concept illustration of William Ernest Fang by Kai Johansson.

Concept illustration of Twig and Onus by Kai Johansson.

It was at some point during this process that I received a phone call from my mom. She had had a vivid dream that she needed to share with me. She told me about these funny creatures that were half moose and half ox. She told me about a magical sand that fixed broken things. I told her that if I had any luck with THE KING OF ARUGULA, I would take the literary nuggets she had handed me and I would build my next two stories around them. I already knew how the whole series (which was originally planned as a five-book series) was going to end, but I was still missing all the meat between the beginning and the end.

And when I felt the book was as good as it was going to be (I found out later with my editor, the book still had a long way to go before it would see the light of day), I packaged it up and sent it out. The positive vibes flowing through me sparked another wave of creativity, and while I waited to see what fate THE KING OF ARUGULA would endure I wrote the second book, which I jokingly titled FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE. I wrote this book in three months and placed the first draft file in a folder I would not open again for several years. During this time I also felt the need to return to school and find somesort of rock-solid career direction, because my career as a barista/writer wasn't getting me far.

I enrolled myself in an intensive publishing program and began learning the ins and outs of book/magazine/digital publishing. From day one, I found the technical world of publishing fascinating. It harkened back to my days in Journalism school, building an article out of pieces of information. The difference here was, I didn't have to go out and get the information. I could assign someone to do that for me. I just had to put it all together in one nice little package and make sure it looked pretty. It was while I was at home working on one of these pretty little packages (I think it was a business-branding assignment) I got a letter from Thistledown Press saying they were interested in the sample chapters I had sent them and they wanted to read more. I had never had a response as positive as this to my work. I quickly mailed out the rest of the manuscript and a few weeks later another letter arrived saying they wanted to publish the book.

I remember opening this letter in the foyer of my apartment building and reading it right there in front of the mailboxes. I remember my hands shaking and a sudden nervous excitement infecting every inch of my body. I remember running up the stairwell hooting and hollering and I remember swinging my front door open and proclaiming to my wife, "They want to publish my book! I'm a writer! I'm a writer!" I'm sure all the published authors, from the most famous down, remember that first letter of acceptance and how it made them feel. It is a most gratifying, satisfying, nerve-wracking feeling. Overwhelmingly, though, it is a feeling of relief and vindication for something you and your friends and your family had always known. That you are a writer...

So I was a writer, eh? All the tough times were over. I'd be rich and famous and never have to worry about future publication. Little did I know. Little. Did. I. Know.

While still in the publishing program, I began the editing process on THE KING OF ARUGULA with a real editor. A few major things were changed, including the ending. I had imagined stretching my escape from the hole over the five books, dropping hints here and there about how me and the smelly Mr. Flex eventually did it. Though it was decided to show this ending at the end of the first book, I was okay with that. There were so many more mysteries to explore.

When the book was finally ready, another waiting game began. It was mid-2006 and the book had a release date for May 2007. I thought the wait would crush me, but instead, it sparked another wave of creativity. In the early mornings before school I would work on the third (and what would eventually become the final) book in THE HOLE STORIES. Because I had spent a number of evenings sitting at the dining room table outlining plot points, I was able to get a strong 25,000 word start to the book in only a few months.

And then a big 'ol crow flew into my life.

I remember the exact point I left my characters hanging. I remember it, because it was frozen in my mind for so very long, like a movie on pause waiting waiting waiting for that play button to be pushed so it could continue on. Onus and Twig were standing on a beach looking out at the setting sun, momentarily distracted from all the problems they were facing; distracted by the beautiful colours in the sky and the beauty of the world, which they had almost forgotten existed after seeing so much evil -- after losing so much hope -- in the week before that. Having been so transfixed on the sunset, they did not notice the two dark silhouettes approaching from behind them. They were completely oblivious to the fact that as the night grew darker, so too would their tale. But the rest of this tale would have to wait.

One of the last projects I was given in my Publishing program was to develop, from business plan to first issue, a magazine. This project would steal ALL of my attention for the next five years. It would also teach me about some of the cold realities of distraction and about the changing world of words. After thinking about the type of literature I was writing and after doing a ton of research, it became apparent there were very few, if any, literature magazines for middle-grade children that focused on, what I liked to call, 'playfully dark' literature; twisted, creepy, scary, hilarious and intelligent, but never pandering or exploitative. Kids are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for. I knew this having talked to so many of them during my school visits. They deserved literature that entertained, challenged and taught (a few good scares were never a bad thing, either). I set out to give them this and built the bones of what would later become CROW TOES QUARTERLY. After school I raised/borrowed the money to make my school project a reality...and with a real focus (something I rarely had before) on it, I launched the first issue in January 2007.

In May 2007 I returned to Onus and Twig's world when we launched THE KING OF ARUGULA at the wonderful BOOK WAREHOUSE in downtown Vancouver. It was one of the great nights of my writing life; reading my words to dozens of friends, family members and curious onlookers; signing my book. If I could live this night over, I would a dozen times. In the days after the launch I wandered around Vancouver, looking for my book on bookstore shelves. I went to the Vancouver Public Library and searched out my book. I looked for all of my online listings. I'm sure all of you first time authors did the same thing.




As editor/publisher of CTQ, I only had time to read other people's work, put the magazine together, maintain the website and write small pieces for a blog that accompanied the magazine. When the initial hoopla around the release of THE KING OF ARUGULA died down, I returned to my magazine. And as the years passed and the magazine evolved and the book quietly disappeared from bookshelves, my focus drifted from the magical worlds inside my head to the real world outside. Besides sending off the first few chapters of Book Two in THE HOLE STORIES to my publisher, I thought very little about getting it published. Instead, I was more concerned about the publishing environment and how it was becoming harder and harder for small publishers to make it. I was struggling to get every issue of CTQ out. As much emotional support as we had and as hard as we tried, we just couldn't get the grants we needed to keep us safe. It didn't matter, though. Near the end of the decade, things were moving online at such a rapid pace, the printed magazine I struggled so hard to get out felt ancient. I knew I had to move online or I just wouldn't get past our tenth issue.

The last six issues of CTQ were published as eZines, with very small print runs, which we sold through the website. It was hard not seeing the magazine on bookstore shelves, but the magazine was still breathing and that was all that mattered. And in that period, the most amazing creative experience of my life occurred. It was a collaboration with Kristian Adam, a CTQ cover artist five times over, and MST Company's Michael Sasi, a writer whose stories had appeared in the magazine several times. Together, we developed ANIMALOPLIS. ANIMALOPLIS was a series of paintings and short stories about two young girls coming to terms with their impact on the environment. The collection was published in CTQ and displayed at AYDEN GALLERY in Vancouver. ANIMALOPLIS gave me a renewed hope for the magazine. But this hope was merely masking a truth I wasn't yet ready to accept. As I moved onto the next issue of CTQ, the world broke apart beneath me (metaphorically, of course).

Me, Michael Sasi and Kristian Adam outside the ANIMALOPOLIS exhibit.



Deep-rooted frustrations with the magazine, the publishing world, life choices I had made and my finances (or lack thereof) seeped into my real life and began to cause fissures in my world view. Then a few very important people in my life passed away. I didn't know how to handle these things so I started shifting blame onto those I cared for...and I was becoming a sad and bitter man. Suddenly, I was falling into this hole that didn't seem to have a bottom. I often wondered, Would Mr. Flex be at the bottom of this hole?

When I hit the bottom and looked up, I didn't think I would ever find my way out. I squeezed out one more issue of the magazine, but then it was gone. I had lost not only my magazine, but also my marriage and a few great friends. Maybe worst of all, I had lost my will to be creative: that thing that made me me. I drifted around for a few months trying to figure out what had just happened to me. Trying to figure out how to get my life back together.

During my time in limbo, I would often think about that paused image of Onus and Twig on the beach. I would close my eyes and think about how I had put them through so much in such a short time. How they should be angry at me...at the way the world was treating them. But they weren't angry, because the world was still so beautiful. But I just didn't know where to take them...even though I knew where I wanted them to be.

There is a huge process involved with healing and coming to terms with certain truths in your life. When 'they' say 'acceptance' is a big part of this healing process, 'they' aren't lying. I worked tirelessly trying to improve myself as both a writer and a human being when my world fell out from beneath me. Part of that work was voicing my frustrations...breaking off the top of the bottle and releasing them from inside of me. I did this through the adult novel I had begun writing years earlier about a wedding photographer who goes over the edge. All my anger and insecurity and immaturity was poured into this work. It was dark and violent and angry. It did what it was supposed to do. It allowed me to breath without fire on my breath for the first time in months. It also made me want to finish THE HOLE STORIES, even if the two final stories were never read. I wanted to finish THE HOLE STORIES for me. I wanted to get Onus and Twig home safe so they could go on living their lives. And I could go on living mine.

But I still didn't know where to go from that beach. My outlines did not go further than that (or I had lost the notes I originally made all those years earlier). I needed something to kickstart my creativity. I needed a change of scenery. So I packed up my car and I took a road trip. I also consciously chose to leave my laptop at home. I needed a change to get the juices flowing again, so I took only a pack of pens and a few notepads of paper with me. I was going old school.

The road trip wasn't just for the writing, though. I was still struggling heavily with the loss I had experienced over the past year. I was looking for a sign that I was going to be all right. And (I think) that sign came my very first night away, while I was in Lillooet, BC. Lillooet had always been a place of mystery for me. In 2001, while staying at my dad's suite in Lillooet, I had a very intense experience with, what I believed was, the supernatural. You can read about that experience HERE. So it is no surprise this 'sign' happened while I was in Lillooet. Perhaps I'm making more of it than what it really was, but it's just so hard to tell.

I had settled into my dumpy little hotel and I was raring to flip open my notepad and see what would pour through my fingers when I put pen to paper. I wandered down to Lillooet's main street (and if you've been to Lillooet, then you know there is only one main street, and it is appropriately titled Main Street) and walked to a series of picnic tables that overlooked the stunning valley. With so much amazing-ness right there in front of me, the play button in my head was quickly pressed. I began to write. Page after page of almost-illegible handwriting. I don't know how much time I was sitting there when I heard the crunch crunch crunch of approaching feet on pebbles. I looked behind me and saw a man in his late sixties/early seventies walking toward me. I hadn't heard him pull up in his pick up truck. I hadn't heard him get out of the truck or shut the door. There were several empty tables along the way, but for some reason he was walking toward mine. The man wore shorts and had metal braces on both of his legs. He had a weathered face and a patchy, white beard. A box of chicken from A&W was in one of his hands and a root beer was in the other. When he reached me and I looked up at him, he said, "Oh, I don't mean to bother you. I just want to look at the view while I'm eating my dinner." I wanted to say, "There are tables all around us with nobody at them. Wouldn't you enjoy the view better on your own?" But instead I said, "No problem" and returned to my writing. He awkwardly worked his way onto the bench and for several minutes he sat there next to me chomping on his chicken, licking his fingers, loudly sucking out the last of the root beer through the straw in his cup. When the chomping stopped I decided the awkwardness of not talking to the man was more than I could handle. I put my pen down and I asked him where he was from.

THE KING OF ARUGULA begins with me falling down a hole on my way home from my Uncle Sol's funeral. At the bottom of the hole is a man I can't see, but I can smell. He has been at the bottom of the hole for days and he smells like death itself. When the shock of falling down the hole wears off, I ask the man how he ended up in the hole. And so begins the story of Onus and Twig. It is a story of sadness, strength, friendship and the power of positivity. When I asked this strange man sitting next to me on the bench in Lillooet where he was from, I may as well have been talking to Mr. Flex, because for the next hour this man told me about the journey he was on. He was from Arizona and he had never left the state before. He had lived a tough life, digging ditches, teaching and even preaching at one point. When his wife passed a few years back, he turned to liquor to mask his pain. He began to resent the world and his beliefs. He became bitter. And then his legs began to deteriorate. He believed that if he lost his ability to walk, he would not have a reason to go on...he had lost so much already. Drinking and struggling to walk at the same time was just too much to deal with, so he gave up the liquor. And in his struggle to keep his mobility, he found all that he had lost in the past. He found his will to live again. He found his belief in God again. He found his need to explore the world he knew was out there, but he had chosen never to see, despite being what he called 'an old man.' It was a phone call from the wife of an old friend that made him pack up his old pick up and head north. His friend was dying and if he wanted to say farewell, he'd have to drop by soon. After spending meaningful time with his friend and saying a proper and emotional good bye, he continued up the coast and into Canada. He couldn't believe the beauty of our province. He couldn't believe how BIG the world was. His dilemma had become his route. His destination was Lake Louise, but did he want to go up through Jasper, or straight through to Banff? After he finished telling me his story I told him a little bit about me...about some of the things I was struggling with. There was something compelling me to share my struggles with this complete stranger. Something about him made me feel at ease. We talked about my writing and our concerns with the impact technology is having on kids today. We talked about the fact that A&W doesn't put ice in their root beer. We talked about nothing and everything. And as the giant moon settled into the valley and the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we stopped and watched it all unfold. After several minutes of witnessing day turn into night, the man who never told me his name stood up and looked down on me. "It's good to believe in something," he said. "And if you're struggling to find something to believe in right now, there's always YOU. You can believe in you. God be with you." And with that, he hobbled back to his truck and drove away. I sat there for several minutes wondering the strangest thing. Did that really just happen?

THE HEALING SAND came together at an alarming rate after my experience in Lillooet. The book was taking on epic proportions (for a middle-grade book, that is) and I was nowhere near the end. With my characters still trapped in a creepy asylum for 'weird' people, I decided to jump ahead and write the ending. It was suddenly in my head and I knew If I didn't get it out then, it wouldn't be the right ending. So I sat in a park in Kamloops, and as the sounds of a lonely guitar echoed through the air (a music festival was happening in the park), I got it out and onto paper. And though it veered from the ending I had envisioned all those years ago, this ending was as it always should have been: touching, sad, reflective and inspiring. When I wrote the last word and dotted the last period, tears had pooled in my eyes. Happy tears.

In the days following my impromptu road trip, I put the finishing touches on the first draft of THE HEALING SAND, and when all was said and done, it was double the size of both the previous books. It would need a rigorous edit, but like a fine wine, new words need to age. I dropped the first draft in a folder on my hard drive. I would not look at it again for another seven months.

It was now early fall 2011 and THE KING OF ARUGULA had been available for more than four years without a follow up. My preconceptions of getting the follow up published  by 'traditional' means was gone (and to be honest, no longer important to me). I was under a new mindset with my writing; I was no longer concerned with anything other than sharing the words with those who wanted to read them. I was content with my day job and making enough money to live. When I began writing/editing for myself again, I began to have fun again. I also found that thing that made me me.

With my priorities shifted, I now set about finding a method to get my final two HOLE STORIES out. A couple of months earlier I had experimented with online publishing using my adult fiction book VANILLA (the one about the crazy wedding photographer) as the guinea pig. My research of eBooks lead me to Smashwords.com. Smashwords takes your thoroughly edited (using their style guide) work and puts it through what they term their 'meatgrinder.' The meatgrinder then converts your work into various digital formats, including PDF, ePub, .mobi (for Kindle) and so on. Smashwords then verifies the quality of the conversions and ships the files to various online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iTunes. Depending on how much YOU work to promote the book, you can make a lot...or very little money doing it this way. But if making money is not your sole purpose for writing, then this method is amazing for sharing your work with a large audience. Within a few weeks VANILLA was on iTunes, and available for all the core eReading devices.

The success I had putting VANILLA into the world made my decision easy. I would self publish the last two HOLE STORIES with Smashwords and promote them through various social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. The process was being used by a whole new generation of writers who weren't having luck publishing the 'traditional' way (or no longer believed in the 'traditional' way), and for the few with a talent for marketing, the process was making them famous. Look at top ten lists around the world. Many contain eBooks published just this way. As I was no longer concerned with money, notoriety, or vanity, this route just made sense to me.

I spent a month editing FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE (keeping the title, because I began to really like its poetic, quirky flow). And released the book in late October 2011. Four years was a long time between two books in the same series, but the wait was worth it. The book I released was one-hundred percent mine, the way I imagined it from the first day I started writing it. The people who had read THE KING OF ARUGULA would finally get to learn about the unruly swans and passenger-train sized worms mentioned at the end of the book.

In March 2012 I broke one of the last chains holding me back. I moved from Surrey, BC, to the heart of downtown, Vancouver, BC. Surrey was a place of intensity and great upheaval. But it was also a place that held memories and (false) hopes and I didn't want to let go. So I held on living there far longer than I should have. The move downtown rejuvenated me in a new way. Living by the ocean. Walking everywhere. Going to plays and concerts. Visiting art galleries. Simplifying. My soul...my spirit felt better. And even though it rained for the first two months I was downtown, nothing could dampen my spirit. I was in a new home. New feelings coursed through my body. The time was perfect to finish up THE HOLE STORIES.

Onus and Twig saved the town of Arugula from William Ernest Fang and all they wanted to do was go home. Part of my struggle when I began these books was figuring out where (and what) home was, not only for my characters, but for me. I had an ingrained notion of what home should be...but that notion was making me bitter and angry. My journey, like Onus and Twig's, was filled with unimaginable sadness and overwhelming joy. It was filled with confrontations and difficult realizations. I believe, though, through that journey I have finally learned where (and what) home is. Home isn't walls and a roof. It isn't that place you keep your toys and your gadgets. Where you sleep at night. Home is the people in your life you take comfort in: your family and friends. Home is writing for the fun of it. Home is sitting on a beach, staring at a sunset. It is being happy just living. Home is...

After eight years of searching for answers and looking for endings...after releasing THE HEALING SAND and bringing Onus and Twig's journey to an end, I finally feel like I am home. And it is a most wonderful place to be.

Who's up for watching a sunset?

  THE HEALING SAND (Book Three: The Hole Stories) 
Available now at Smashwords.com 
Available everywhere else in the coming weeks

Friday, 30 March 2012

Appreciating Vancouver's Hidden Art (or How My Home Became a Kristian Adam Art Gallery)

When I set out to publish Crow Toes Quarterly, my first concern was the quality of the stories going into the magazine. It soon became clear that the artwork I chose to accompany the stories was just as important (if not more) than the words. We had always planned to have great art on the cover and to have the odd ART INTERLUDE, which was an art break in-between stories, but I had never taken the art elsewhere in the magazine seriously. A glance through our first year's issues will show you what I mean. A lot of last minute Illustrator "art" made its way into stories that deserved so much better.

Along with this Illustrator "art" we would try as best we could to match randomly submitted artwork to the stories we planned to publish. This brought us an amazing variety of styles to the magazine, but it also brought a strange inconsistency. As the magazine's popularity grew (at least with the artists and writers around the world) so did the artists generosity. We didn't have a lot of money (in fact, we had no money), but this didn't hold back dozens of brilliant artists who wanted to create for us. Soon we were matching our literary content with an artist's style and these artists were creating original pieces for us. And what came out of this was a kind of magic... and a more complete magazine.

What also came out of this growth in CTQ's art style was a growth in my own appreciation for art... a new sensitivity to it. Yes, art is a broad term and can mean almost anything that has a little human creativity put into it, and I definitely have an appreciation for all human creativity, but in this case I'm talking about paintings and drawings and illustrations. I was always so excited to see how a particular artist interpreted a story. Sometimes it was exactly as I imagined it and other times it was completely different. I was never disappointed with an artist's interpretation.

And so I began to post these interpretations up in my office and I began to collect original art by CTQ's artists (my home looks like a Kristian Adam gallery) and attend art openings... and notice the art that was all around me. When I moved back into Vancouver in early March and took my first walk around my new neighbourhood, the first thing I noticed was the vibrant and thought-provoking street art. Some people would call it graffiti, but I call it amazing! It was down the alleys and under the bridges. It was on store walls and the back of bus stops. I wanted to frame it and put it up on my walls. Of course, doing that was impossible, so I did the next best thing: I took video of it and mashed it all up in the little montage.



Next time you're walking down an alley and something is painted (with care) on a garage door or on a back wall, stop and take a look at it (unless, of course, there's a scary looking fellow, who's holding crowbar, following close behind you. In that case... RUN!). You may find a new appreciation for this hidden art, too.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Vancouver Video Journal #1 - Seawall: Burrard Bridge to Lion's Gate Bridge

About a decade ago I worked in a coffeeshop in Richmond, BC. We had this regular customer we called Charlie. Charlie wasn't his real name, though. Charlie was a name made up by one of the baristas who was tired of calling him the Grande-Extra-Shot-Mocha Guy. For some reason Charlie was reluctant to tell us his real name. When we would ask him, he would say things like, "I am whoever you'd like me to be" and "Names just get in the way." He was a weird guy, but we liked him.

The reason I'm talking about Charlie is because of what he liked to say at the end of each transaction. He said three little words that have stuck with me all these years. Three little words that could mean one of many things, depending on the situation. Charlie would always (always) hand us a five-dollar bill to pay for his drink and there would usually be a bit of change. Every time we dropped the change into his opened hand he would say, "Change is good."

Change is good.

From July 2010 to July 2011 I experienced more loss than I had ever experienced in my entire life before that. With great loss comes great change. The change was terrifying at first. I was living a new life, in a new home, with brand-new concerns...concerns I had never thought about in the ten years before that. I became reclusive. I turned to the things that had always been there for me: my books and my writing. But the change was making my writing darker, more angry. It was sucking a lot of the joy out of the books I was reading.

I kept telling myself, "Change is good." Heck, when I was in my late teens/early twenties I changed up my life as frequently as I changed toilet paper rolls. So why was it so difficult to do/believe at this point in my life? One very miserable night in January I started writing about the happiest times in my life and it seemed that most of them took place during my brief time living in Kitsilano in 1999/2000. As memory after memory left my mind and filled up the page in front of me, it became clear. And for the first time in more than a year, I knew what I needed to do.

Change is good!

On March 1st I moved out of the suburbs and back into the city (Vancouver, BC). It has been a reawakening of sorts. Yes, it's way more expensive to live here, but it's worth every penny. I've been more creative/inspired in the past few weeks than I had been in the four months previous. Everywhere I turn, there is something that gets my creative juices flowing. During a walk around the Seawall yesterday (March 16th, 2012) I randomly started shooting video of things that were making me smile: geese, statues, horizon lines, clouds, etc. I rounded a corner and to my delight saw a rainbow over the Lion's Gate Bridge. I stood there and stared at it for almost a half hour, despite the rain that was soaking me (I still haven't gotten used to carrying an umbrella with me at all times...even if there isn't a cloud in sight, because in Vancouver the weather seems to change every ten minutes).

While I was walking home from my epic journey around the Seawall I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a video journal of some of the things in Vancouver that help me feel creative (and at peace). My first entry is "Seawall: Burrard Bridge to Lion's Gate Bridge". The music is one of my cornerSUN compositions called "Pori".

Change is good...and this is one of the reasons why:

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Beasts

While walking up and down Willows Beach in Victoria, BC, thinking about complex plot outlines and what I was going to eat for lunch that day, I locked eyes with a most spectacular beast. When I lost the staring match I had suddenly found myself in, I noticed there were several more beasts lying in the sand. They looked ancient. They looked like they had seen so much. I wanted to approach them, but I did not want to disturb their peace. So I pulled out my camera and shot these pictures.

It's amazing what you see when you look hard enough...








1. title/skin
2. wise/eye
3. unkempt/beard
4. weathered/scar
5. hungry/snout
6. reach/claw
7. fulfilled/beak