HCC’s First Look Offer: Local Girl Missing

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Do you like reading? Do you like free stuff? Are you Canadian? If you replied yes to all three of these questions, then you should check out @HarperCollinsCa because they have a program called First Look (#HCCFirstLook) in which they periodically give people to an opportunity to read an advance copy of a book.

There are currently 10 copies up for grabs of Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas (@Dougieclaire), author of the award-winning The Sisters. Per the HarperCollins website, here’s a brief summary of the novel:

When Sophie begins to date Leon, Frankie warns her not to be lured in by his sensitivity and startling blue eyes. Frankie sees a dark side to him, but Sophie is smitten. Soon after this romance begins, twenty-one-year-old Sophie vanishes, last seen at the town’s old Victorian pier.

Twenty years later, Frankie receives a call from Sophie’s brother, Daniel, informing her that remains have been found near the old pier. Frankie wonders if it could be Sophie and returns to her hometown to try to finally find closure. But when she arrives, Frankie thinks she sees a woman on the pier late at night, a woman who looks just like Sophie. Could she be seeing her friend’s ghost? Does someone else know what happened those many years ago?

Click on the above First Look link to put your literary hat in the ring for a chance to be one of those 10 lucky Canuck recipients.

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Canada Council Job Openings

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A couple of great job opportunities at the Canada Council for the Arts.

This first one is for the position of Director General, Arts Granting Programs and this second one is for Program Officer, Digital Strategy Fund.

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Dennis Rodman, North Korea & A Fun History Test!

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(Left, Kim thinking, 와~ Mr. 데니즈 is so much tall! Right, Rodman thinking, This is badass Roman! A tiger fighting a lion in front of 100,000 spectators!)

Writing for the @Washington Post, Anna Fifield (@annafifield) had an interesting piece on Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea, that pernicious, electricity-less, “shrimp stuck between the whales” whose leader seems bent on following his father and grandfather’s trip along North Korea’s very own Highway of Tears (see B.C.’s Highway 16), otherwise known as the One-Way Climb up Mount Purgatory, right past floors one through nine: stubbornness, repentance, pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avariciousness, gluttony and lust.

In an article titled “Dennis Rodman just gave Kim Jong Un ‘The Art of the Deal.’ And it may be a genius move.,” Ms. Fifield, the Post’s Tokyo bureau chief, with a focus on Japan and the two Koreas, concludes her piece by writing, “In fact, thinking about this, maybe it was a genius move for Rodman to give Kim a copy of the president’s book. They might just realize they can get along.”

It’s possible Ms. Fifield is right, but let’s call a spade a spade here. Pretty much every person Donald Trump has hired, appointed or tapped for one purpose or another since entering the Oval Office last January, including (but not limited to) Dennis Rodman, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Betsy DeVos, is a combined wreck of trains. Or, to quote a colleague from Ms. Fifield’s own newspaper on January 19, 2017: “Donald Trump has assembled the worst Cabinet in American history.”

Yikes! Them there be fightin’ words.

But I’ll let you, the reader, come to your own conclusion with a FUN! history test. Of the following events in world history, rank them in order of brilliance, from 1 to 5, with 5 being “Thomas Edison having a light bulb moment” and 1 being “Ben Franklin flying a kite with one hand during a thunderstorm, his other hand plunged deep into a toaster (that is miraculously plugged in) and his bare feet in a pool of water.”

a) Dennis Rodman conducting any sort of business on behalf of the U.S., official or not.

b) Napoleon invading Russia in winter.

c) Hitler invading Russia in winter.

d) Neville Chamberlain signing the Munich Agreement in 1938.

e) Electing a president who “does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.””

Essentially, I think Ms. Fifield was correct in her estimation that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are cut from the same cloth; neither man, for example, would have ever passed Dante’s first rung up Mt. P.

In the end, all megalomaniac ignoramuses will be dangerous toolboxes when allowed out of their toolsheds unfettered. And that’s the part that scares me most.

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Launching a Successful Book Launch

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Launching a launch. Ha ha ha. That’s funny. (NOTE: Sedaris, you got nuttin’ on me! Oh, and I’ll be here all weekend…maybe longer.)

Seriously, though, a book launch is no laughing matter, doubly so if you’re handling it all on your own. If you’re going to do it right, it takes a lot of planning, hard work and – sadly – some dinero. I wrote a bit about the whole thing in a post (YOLO: You Only Launch Once) and more generally through a page on the self-publishing process.

However, Cecilia Lewis (@ceciliaedits) over at Lewis Editorial: Bringing Stories to Life also has some useful advice for indie authors, especially those about to go to their first rodeo, in a post called “7 Tips for a Successful Book Launch.”

I concur with everything Ms. Lewis has to say and would add one thing to No. 7: Celebrate. I’ve done five book launches/signings in two countries and in two languages and I can tell you this: The more formal and structured and icky you make it, the less enjoyable it is for everyone. I think book launches should be run like a good book club; people need to want to be there, not because of the moral imperative (“Come on, Mom! It’s one afternoon away from your underwater crochet class!”; “Bro, like, I’ll buy you that custom back waxing that can skip over your BackAc if you come for at least, like, five minutes.”; “Norma Ray, you’re my best friend in the whole wide world and I promise to teach you how to talk pretty one day just like DSed.”), but because it’s going to be a good time (i.e. free booze), they can meet other interesting human beings (no doucheags in fancy suits or ascots), and if they’re a writer/artist themselves, they can network without looking desperate (sort of an oxymoron, sort of not).

To all those out there about to embark on their first book launch, I wish you all the best. One last piece of advice: Practice signing your name a bunch of times in a row and try not to make it look like chicken scratch the 10th time around (cough), because readers like to show off their signed copies with something legible (cough cough) that does not resemble Chinese characters that got caught in the washing machine on the perma-spin cycle (cough cough cough).

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The O. Henry Prize Stories

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The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2017 have officially been announced. For those who enjoy the art form of the short story, you’re sure to find something you’ll like from this year’s list by clicking here. 

Per Wiki:

“The O. Henry Award is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit. The award is named after the American short story writer, O. Henry. The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is an annual collection of the year’s twenty best stories published in U.S. and Canadian magazines, written in English.”

Born William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), but better known by his most famous pen name, O. Henry, Porter wrote a boatload of short stories in his day. Among his most well-known works are “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Caballero’s Way.”

While writers like Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro are probably more respected as geniuses of the genre, O. Henry certainly earned his own place in the pantheon of short story authors.

If you want to read some of O. Henry’s goldenest golden nuggets, check out Project Gutenberg, where you can download 19 of his stories for free.

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Barack Obama, Telomeres & Ageless Skin

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In the raging-like-a-bad-case-of-herpes shitstorm that is the hallmark of politics in Washington D.C. right now, it’s comforting to know that the former president has it all figured out: Don’t give a flying **** what the hell is happening out there in the world; undo the top button on your dress shirt; make time to see JT when up in the Great White North; hang with Sir Dick Branson when you feel like it’s “better to be a Virgin member”; and wear cool shades at all times, even at night when you’re secretly pretending to be Corey Hart.

But there’s actually more to looking 50+ Fab if you’re Barack Obama: There are telomeres at play. A lot of telomeres. I’ll let Drake Baer (@drake_baer) explain this in more detail through his post “A Scientific Explanation For Why Barack Obama Looks So Damn Good,” but needless to say President Obama wasn’t just in your class 20 years ago – he was your teacher! (Shout-out to Oil of Olay and the faux Maverick and Charlie on this one.)

All jokes aside, it’s comforting to know that the previous Commander-in-Chief not only has his sanity in tact after eight tough years in office, but that he is enjoying his newfound “retirement” – and looking pretty damn good doing it.

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Pride Month: Gareth’s Story

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In honour of Pride Month, which kicked off here in Toronto on June 1 and will culminate with the Pride Parade on June 25, I would like to voice my support through a sport I love and one which most people would not connect to the Pride movement.

This is Gareth Thomas’s story. For many of us in North America, we will not be familiar with his name. But make no mistake, Gareth is a larger-than-life figure, literally and figuratively.

Gareth is a national hero. He is one of the greatest rugby players Wales has ever produced. He is also someone who lived a lie for decades on the global stage –  in front of fans, beside friends, surrounded by family – not because he was an evil person or wished harm upon others.

Because he was afraid.

Because he did not want to disappoint a wife he had been married to for five years.

Because he did not want to let down 3 million people who considered him the Welsh incarnation of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky put together.

Because he was human and, therefore, fallible.

But, mostly, because he was afraid.

He attempted to take his own life several times after his wife left him in 2006. But Gareth Thomas persevered. He arose from the ashes of a shattered marriage, at a time when he later reflected, “I missed her so badly, and hated myself for what I had inflicted on her.”

And like the steamroller-cum-phoenix he was on the pitch, Gareth Thomas found the courage – somehow and in some inconceivable way – to live the life he wanted to live. And the crowning glory to this all was not the records he broke along the way, nor the winning tries, nor the century-strong caps, nor the adulation he earned from scores of die-hard rugby enthusiasts around the world.

It was the support, nay, the love shown to him by his legion of fans, the same fans who stood shoulder to shoulder with him as their God of Rugby gave them “something so simple as honesty” to rally behind on his terms.

Pride Month has become more than a flashy parade, at least in Toronto, that is. It’s about acceptance, honesty, tolerance, friendship, love, equality, and the right to be proud of qualities that celebrate empathy and compassion, and the same traits which make us more humane as individuals and stronger as a society.

On June 25, let us all be loud, let us all be proud.

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OAC Confirms Ontarians Value the Arts

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And this is one of the many reasons I love living in Ontari-ari-o…

New report: Ontarians value the positive impact of arts on quality of life

“The results of the Quality of Life report confirm what we heard as we developed the province’s first Culture Strategy, and show that Ontarians intuitively understand that culture is a fundamentally important part of our lives and communities. I’m proud that our government is taking steps to strengthen the arts and culture sector as we implement the initiatives outlined in the Culture Strategy, and the Ontario Arts Council is an important part of that work.”

Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport

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Book of the Month: The Imperfectionists

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Loved, loved, loved this book! British-Canadian-Man-o’-the-World author Tom Rachman really hit it out of the park with his debut novel, The Imperfectionists (2010). One of the Golden Rules of Writing – as opposed to the “26 Golden Rules for Writing Well” – is to write what you know, and Mr. Rachman(inoff), like a skilled pianist tickling a set of ivories with nimble fingertips that are a natural extension of his hands, did exactly that with a motley crew of characters who were mostly holed up in Rome, Italy.

As with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Good Squad and Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, the numerous “short stories” which make up the novel are very much interconnected. Our job as readers is to connect the dots; Mr. Rachman’s job, as the puppet master, was to spin a series of (in this case journalistic-related) yarns, one after the other, and have each one be strong enough to stand on its own.

Mission accomplished.

Just like the title of the novel suggests, the story is rife with flawed, imperfect, screwed-up misfits – and that recipe for literary deliciousness comes across as nothing short of thoroughly engaging and believable.  Set around a fictional International Herald Tribune-esque newspaper established in Rome by an eccentric millionaire named Cyrus Ott in the 1950s, right up until its demise half a century later, we’re taken on an unforgettable journey through newsrooms and bedrooms, bylines and deadlines, all the while nodding our collective heads up and down and thinking, That’s so true!

Even though Mr. Rachman was only in his early 30s when he penned this book, he manages to come up with some astute, humourous and memorable lines along the way:

“You know, there’s that silly saying ‘We’re born alone and we die alone’ – it’s nonsense. We’re surrounded at birth and surrounded at death. It is in between that we’re alone.”

“If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.”

Summer, as some believe, may be the season for light, fluff-driven literature, but if you’re looking for a quick read that is sure to keep you turning the page with its countless nuggets of insight into the human condition, go and get yourself a copy of The Imperfectionists right now.

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Quote of the Day

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“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War (5th century BCE)

Even if you haven’t read The Art of War, you’re probably familiar with many of its now-famous axioms, most of which relate to military strategy and tactics, but can be just as easily applied to day-to-day stuff, business, sports, and pretty much everything else in life.

Here are a coupe of other doozies from Sun Tzu (544-496 BCE):

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

Although we have only had an annotated English translatin of The Art of War from its original Classical Chinese since 1910, when Lionel Giles seemed to accomplish the linguistically impossible, its effect on Western culture was immediate and profound.

Sadly, as the American Century – from its entrance onto the word stage as the NKOTB at the tail end of World War I in 1917 to the swearing-in of Donald Trump as President in 2017 – draws to a close, I can’t help but wonder if the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief didn’t perhaps get his Art of War on through the wrong medium, instead using Mr. Snipes as his inspiration to lodge a war with the world.

After watching the goings-on at the White House over the last five months or so, another military strategist I think about is Napoleon Bonaparte, a complex character who could come up with dynamite little quips in a short amount of time, kind of like this one: “Never interupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Indeed, we won’t. After all, who needs any of that phony baloney bread or circus stuff when we’ve got Donnie T. shooting himself in the foot with a mouth-propelled rocket on a daily basis. I’ll tell you who really needs the bagutte and Cirque de Soleil action – the infamous secret agenct, Señor Covfefe of Mexico.

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