Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cover Reveal and More

As some of you may know, when my daughter and our family were going through her scoliosis journey we blogged about it. Over the course of sixteen months or so, my wife, our daughter, and I chronicled our experiences and told the story in our own words as seen through our eyes.

The blog was wildly successful and more than accomplished its goal of making this experience more visible to families out there under similar circumstances.

Once our daughter's story was done, roughly one year post-surgery, I decided that this would make a fantastic book, so I added a bunch of backstory and some insight into what was going on in between blog posts, compiled all the posts into the book, and added a lessons learned and some Q&A and Bent But Not Broken: One Family's Scoliosis Journey was born.

Having secured a publisher and gone through the requisite editing stages, I am pleased to announce that we have a release date for the book as well as an absolutely fantastic cover!

When does it come out? 
January 20, 2018

Where can I see the cover?
RIGHT HERE

You can also see it over at http://bentbutnotbroken.net

Other things happening

Writers often get a lot of questions about our work. It's a good thing, and we love it when people show an interest in what we create. Some of the most common questions asked are:
  • Where can I get your book?
  • When will your book be out?
  • Are you working on another book?

I could go on, but really it's just those three questions with the "When will your book be out?" one being asked more often than any other. It's with this in mind I've created a couple pages here on my website.

The first is simply titled "Books". On it you can find all the books I've written or anthologies I've been a part of and clicking the links will take you to a page that lists all the places those titles are available, whether it's in print, ebook, or audiobook.

The second page is "WIP" which is pretty much a standard acronym in a number of industries that stands for "work in progress". On it you will find all my upcoming projects with a bit of information about the work, what stage it's at, and what the plan is for it. If there's a cover for the book, you'll also be able to see it here before it shows up anywhere else.

Follow me via email, RSS feed, or through Google at the handy links down the right side to make sure you don't miss out!

Books

WIP

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lest We Forget

I normally post on Mondays. I start writing the post on Saturday and then I tweak and revise and post it on Monday morning. This is partly because I like to have that New Post Smell for the MondayBlogs hashtag, but also because my writing schedule lends itself to this type of arrangement. Today, however, I'm both writing and posting on Saturday. Why? Because today is Remembrance Day. Americans call it Veterans Day. Serbia and Belgium call it Armistice Day. 

Belgium, as some of you may know (as all of you should know) was where Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields

Poem on Display at the Canadian Vimy Ridge Museum
Belgium is also home to the head office of the company I work for and I traveled there a few weeks ago with three of my coworkers. Our plane landed at 7:00 A.M. and we wouldn't be able to check into our hotel until much later that afternoon so we decided we would drive to France and visit Vimy Ridge. One member of our party was American, and one a Brit that has spent most of his life in Canada and the other fellow and myself Canadian. 

The battle at Vimy Ridge was a watershed moment for the Canadian armed forces and for Canada as a nation. We were barely a country unto ourselves, having taken the title of Dominion of Canada a little more than 50 years earlier, and Vimy marked the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought as a cohesive unit. The battle, which began on April 9, 1917, and ended on April 12, 1917, was won by the allied forces and has come to symbolize the moment that Canada stepped out of adolescence and into adulthood.   

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial was unveiled by King Edward VIII on July 26, 1936, and sits on the highest point of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park. Standing at the foot of this colossal monument you get a real sense of perspective about the battle that occurred there a hundred years ago. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the raged battle cries, the thundering booms of heavy artillery, and the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. 



To say that visiting the monument and touring the nearby museum was an emotional moment would be a gross understatement and oversimplification of what it felt like to be there. I have lived my entire existence at a distance from the atrocities of war. There have always been at least one or two degrees of separation between myself and the places I don't have the courage to go and the acts I don't have the emotional strength to carry out. 

Standing there, surrounded by the ghosts of both good and evil, running my hand across the cold Seget limestone and letting my fingers follow the carved lines of the names of the heroic dead brought with it the stark realization that hundreds of millions of people owed their livelihoods, if not their lives, to millions of complete strangers who were as committed as they were brave. 

One of those grateful lives is my own, of course, and one of those committed strangers, a little more than a year after The Battle of Vimy Ridge and a ninety-minute drive to the south, made the ultimate sacrifice. He was my father's mother's father, my great-grandfather, and his name was Edwin Byard Hill. He was a private in the 43rd Batallion of the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) and was killed in action on August 8, 1918. 

My grandmother was just a little girl when her father left for the war and she spent almost eight decades without him. That fact alone boggles my mind as I have been fortunate enough to have both my parents with me for every minute of my forty-three years here on earth. I had all four of my great-grandparents in my life for at least sixteen of them with the last one passing when I was well into my thirties, so to have lost a parent at such a young age must have filled her heart with more anguish than a child should ever have to bear. 

After our visit to the Vimy memorial, my colleagues agreed to make the pilgrimage to the burial site of my great-grandfather at the Mézières Communal Cemetary Extension in the Somme region of France. To the knowledge of my immediate relatives, I was the first person in the family to visit the war grave. 

Thank you, Great-Grandpa Hill.
Two of my colleagues accompanied me into the cemetery and, after we found my great-grandfather in Extension 4, Plot I, Row B, Grave 16, they let me have as much time alone as I needed. I took a bunch of photographs and stood, and then kneeled, and had a good long chat with him. There were tears, and even as I type this I am welling up with profound sadness for he is just one of millions that gave everything so that others could have something. 

Great-grandpa Hill, everyone who served alongside him, everyone who served before him, and everyone who has served since are owed our gratitude not just on this national day of remembrance, but every single day we wake up, check our phones, create or enjoy art, work, play, eat, live, breathe, and exist under the warmth of the sun and within the almost limitless boundaries of freedom.

To you, we owe our lives, and for this, you have our eternal thanks. May peace reign over your heart and protect your soul. 

~ Andrew


If you'd like to take a look at more of my pictures from my trip I have made the Facebook album public. 



Link List: 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Connections

I am a writer. As such, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I have even more acquaintances who are writers. On social media (mostly Facebook but also Instagram and Twitter) I would wager that my interactions with writers outnumber interactions with everyone else combined. I have a short list of non-family members that I put into the category of close friends. There are two from my university days and another three that I didn't even know existed until I started writing, and more specifically, started participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as well like to call it, or if we're being particularly lazy, "NaNo".

NaNo is a challenge to writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In other words, write a novel in thirty days. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, for an entire month. It's a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it's a lot. Trust me, I know. I participated in this challenge six years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and was only successful four out of those six years.



For a number of reasons, I'm not doing NaNo this year. A friend asked me if it felt weird and I said that it did. Other than the fact I've done it for six years in a row now I couldn't put my finger on why that was. I thought a bit about it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it felt weird because NaNoWriMo is a big reason that I am a writer at all.

In early 2010 I started dabbling with some writing. Not simply jotting stuff down and blogging every now and then, but writing with plot and character in mind. Well, sort of. I was blogging somewhat regularly and I had every intention of starting a big screenwriting project, at some point, some time, you know, later. But by some sheer twist of fate, it was the month of November that all that changed.

If anyone out there is a fan of the James Burke show Connections (and Connections 2 and Connections 3) you'll see that my "path to success" goes WAY back and isn't exactly a straight line.

That's Why I'm on This Oil Rig a Writer

  • In 1993 I worked as a clerk at a video store before heading off to university.
  • It was that first year at university that I would have a little girlfriend trouble.
  • While that was going on, Kevin Smith was writing the movie Clerks. It is a movie about a couple dudes working as, well, clerks. One in a video store and one at a convenience store. One of the clerks has girlfriend trouble. 
  • That movie came out in 1994 and I saw it when it hit video stores in 1995. The movie changed the way I looked at films and my whole creative process and I was an immediate fan. 
  • Later that year I got back together with one of my girlfriends from back in 1993. We would get married on November 6, 1999.  
  • Fast forward to 2010. Kevin Smith had made ten movies and was a huge success and doing his Q&A sessions and multiple podcasts. My wife looks out her office window one day and sees a billboard advertising Kevin Smith coming to town just a few days before our anniversary.
  • We attend the show and have a great time and it sparked something in me. Afterwards, I came across this blogger and writer by the name of Robert Chazz Chute who wrote about his experience at the same show. In his post, he mentioned this weird thing called NaNoWriMo. I, in turn, wrote a blog post about getting off my ass and actually writing something. It was going to be a screenplay. 
  • In 2011 I started writing the screenplay and I was having a conversation with one of those close friends I mentioned earlier in the post. I was lamenting that I was having a hard time getting my story to fit into the framework of a film. He said that he didn't want to see an Andrew Butters movie. He'd rather read an Andrew Butters book. So, I switched gears and started to write it as a novel. 
  • In November 2011, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I was there alongside Robert cranking out words and having a great time. It was on Twitter during NaNo that I met a writer by the name of Jennifer Gracen.
  • Jennifer was a NaNo cheerleader and she introduced me to a whole number of other writers and eventually she invited me into a writer's group on Facebook. One of these individuals is now one of my other close friends, Gordon Bonnet. We joke that we are brothers from different mothers. Twins separated at birth and by more than a decade and several strands of DNA. 
  • One of the Twitter NaNo folks Jennifer introduced me to almost died due to a medical complication and there was an anthology being put together to raise money to help pay her medical bills. I wrote a piece of creative non-fiction about the unexpected death of my wife's brother and Jennifer edited that piece for me. It was eventually accepted into the anthology and just like that, I had my first published piece. 
  • Shortly thereafter I had a photographer friend, Christine Reid, do some headshots for me. If I was going to write books I was going to need pictures for back covers, right?
  • Then, in 2014 my daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was going to require spinal fusion surgery. Since there was little information out on the web from girls and families that have gone through this, my genius wife decided that we should keep a family blog to chronicle the journey. 
  • A year post-surgery the blog was done and I decided that if I could add a bit more context to the blog posts that it would make a pretty powerful book. In October 2016 I finished Bent But Not Broken: One Family's Scoliosis Journey
  • In January of 2017, I was talking to another writer, one to whom I was introduced at the same time as my brudder from another mudder. She suggested I talk to him about Bent. So, I did. He was beta reading the manuscript and unbeknownst to me had given it to the Editorial Board at his publisher, Oghma Creative Media. A few weeks later I had my first writing contract.
  • A couple months later, the Oghma founder was asking me for a headshot for an announcement on their Facebook page about my signing. I pointed him to the folder of headshots that my friend Christine did for me.
  • He asked me if I did any acting when inquiring about why I had headshots taken. I told him I had them done so I'd have something for a book cover one day. He said, "Oh, you've written other stuff?" and I told him I had a few pieces of almost completed fiction plus bits and bobs of incomplete stuff that will take shape at some point. He invited me to the publisher's writing retreat in the summer and said we would talk.
  • I returned home in August of 2017 from my publisher's writing retreat with two book contracts: one for a standalone psychological thriller (short novel) and one for an open-ended suspense series called The "No" Conspiracies (which will be at least five books at this point). 
  • Bent But Not Broken comes out on the third anniversary of my daughter's surgery on January 20, 2018. 
  • Hard Truth (the short novel) comes out in September of 2018.
  • No Fixed Address: The "No" Conspiracies Book #1 comes out in March 2019.
  • No Known Cure: The "No" Conspiracies Book #2 comes out in September 2019, which currently sits at about 25,000 words. 
    • To bring this all full circle, it's worth noting that this was the movie I started writing back in 2010 and ended up being the book I started writing during my very first NaNoWriMo back in 2011. 
    • In fact, of the seven books I have either written or have committed to writing, four of them have been NaNo projects.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of connections that brought me from A to B on this writing journey of mine. I look at the long list of events above and if you remove any one of them the chain collapses. I see all those events as the kindling and the fuel for my fire. If that's true, then learning about NaNoWriMo was the spark. The annual challenge for writers around the globe that I found out about at just the right time because the impact that a single Kevin Smith show had on a guy named Robert which prompted him to write a blog post that I happened to read. 

Here are tonight's three stars of the game: 
  • Kevin Smith. For writing Clerks, deciding to do a show in Kitchener of all places in 2010, and inspiring writers and filmmakers in ways that only you can do.

  • Robert Chazz Chute. For sharing your fanboiness of Kevin Smith and writing and introducing me to the world of writing (also, for that drive into Toronto to go see Kev's movie Red State when I was suffering from post-concussion syndrome).

  • My wife. For taking a minute out of her day to look out the window and suggest that a Kevin Smith show would be a good anniversary present, and for being the bond that has held together so many of the links in my chain for nearly a quarter of a century. You're why I'm on this oil rig, baby. Happy Anniversary!
~ Andrew

Monday, September 4, 2017

Picture Perfect

I have a friend that is a fan of doing things. If I really think about it, in reality, he's a fan of learning things. If there is a thing he wants to and he doesn't know how to do it, he learns it, and then he does the thing. Then he does this thing that is interesting. He stops. If he wants to get better at the thing he obviously doesn't stop. He picks another harder or more challenging level for that thing and he keeps learning. But for his original purposes, once the thing is done he stops.

You see, my friend uses this expression that speaks to a philosophy that I have found useful when trying to be more productive:

Perfect is the enemy of done.

It's a wonderful little sentence when you think about it. It has but six words. You could write it with four (perfect is done's enemy), you could write it with five and fancy up some of the words (perfection runs contrary to completion), or you could bloat it out with a bunch of unnecessary stuff to make it sound more profound than it actually is (when you seek perfection you are competing against your interest of finishing the task at hand). As it is, it takes its own advice. It does its job and it is finished. It's not perfect, but it is done.

Take note that this is a different philosophy than rushing through and doing something half-assed. That's just being lazy and in some cases irresponsible. This expression at its core is about getting the job done but not fretting over minutiae that won't impact the result in any appreciable way.

I often struggle with this in much of what I do creatively, in particular, my writing. When I write I have the tendency to edit as I go in an effort to have it read as I want it to read when it's done. I am compelled to make it perfect the first time, or at least in as many iterations right then as it takes to get it just right. The end result is nice, but it takes a looooooooong time to get it there.

For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I just write. I start at word count = 0 and I write with reckless abandon until word count = 50,000. I get to the finish line in near record time (for me) but the end result is far from noteworthy. I recently opened up a short manuscript (~51,000 words) that took me less than thirty days to write. It's actually due to my publisher by the end of October. Aside from the fact that I wrote it three years ago, there was so much wrong with it that I was too embarrassed to let it see the light of day. This example makes a bit of a mockery of the "perfect is the enemy of done" expression.

There needs to be a balance. 

I take great pride in my work and never want something to go out into the world that doesn't meet my standards, but there is a limit to what is practical. For blog posts, I often employ the "good enough" philosophy. By and large, I think they tend to be decent and occasionally pretty good so I think my approach for these is working. For novels, especially since I've just landed a publisher, I need to start trusting the process. I need to get the manuscripts done and stop chasing perfection. The editing team will do their jobs and won't let it out into the world if it's subpar and I have to trust them.

The catalyst for this post came during and immediately after the latest solar eclipse. I was on a strict timeline to get set up. I had to prepare the telescope in terms of position and focus and get my camera setup and attached to the telescope. I wanted to do a time-lapse composite image that required shots every 15-20 minutes. My goal was a sequence of 8-10 pictures that spanned the range of full sun to maximum eclipse for my geographic location (~80% coverage).

Nature, being what she is, would not wait and I hadn't taken the day off work to do this so I had limited time to get set up in between replying to emails and whathaveyou. I would have to settle for "good enough" and cross my fingers. Better planning would have helped a lot. Some observations:

  • I did some test shots the day before so I'd know approximately where to have the focus knop on the telescope and what kind of exposure I needed, at least for a full sun. 
  • I didn't charge my battery (oops!) 
  • I did have a backup filter I could use if I ran into problems. 
  • I didn't factor in the angle of the sun and realized that I'd need to be lying on the ground to set up each shot. 
  • I did realize that I could set my rig up on a table to help with this. 
  • I didn't realize the table shook every time I so much as breathed on it. 
  • The clouds did cooperate (somewhat miraculously) and I managed to get shots every 15 minutes or so throughout the whole 2+ hour event

When I got home I opened up the images and found that I got quite a few good ones. I really wanted to get the pictures up on the internet quickly before the hype died down so I opened up the basic image editor for Windows 10 and did an "auto enhance" on each one, cropped it square and then jacked up the warmth to give them a more sun-like colour. However, the exposure wasn't identical for each of the pictures and the "auto enhance" feature only did so much to equalize them.

I started to muck with them in Windows 10 and then looked at the clock. I was running out of time and didn't want to be up all night, so I cut bait on that idea and I put them all into GIMP (basically a free PhotoShop). I was pretty sure that most people would do the standing line of images with totality in the middle. I didn't have a pic of totality so I was thinking of using either the maximum eclipse or full sun as the focal point. I mucked about with the layout for a bit and tried to come up with something different.

Before too long, inspiration struck and I had my layout. The colours were still off, though and I wasn't completely okay with how it was looking. A quick time check told me I had precious few moments left so I saved what I had and stepped away from it. A few minutes later, I came back and took a look with fresh eyes, and do you know what? I liked it. I really liked it. The imbalance in the colour worked. It looked real. It looked organic.

It wasn't perfect but it was done.

I have been using the expression, "Be better, not perfect," as my personal life motto for a while now and it was at this moment in front of my eclipse photo creation I came to the realization that art and people have at least one thing in common.

Sometimes beauty lies within the imperfections.

"La Fleur d'Eclipse" (c) 2017 Andrew Butters

~ Andrew

Monday, July 10, 2017

The 30-Day Song Challenge - Days 25-30

June 27 - Day 25 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me laugh

I wouldn’t say that there’s any one song that makes me laugh out loud. There are a lot of songs that have parts I’m fond of in a funny sort of way though. A lot of those songs are by the Barenaked Ladies. Certainly, anything by They Might Be Giants should be given consideration. There’s this one song by The Lowest of the Low, The Taming of Carolyn, that has a line, “Her mother’s worst fears were confirmed. She’s taken up with a musician. Holy shit!” and the “holy shit” spoken by a different voice than the singer makes it funny – to me, at least.

For my song challenge choice, however, I’m going with another Lowest of the Low song, Rosy and Grey. It is not a particularly funny song, but it has this line that’s always made me chuckle:

“I’ve kissed you in France and I’ve kissed you in Spain.
And I’ve kissed you in places I’d better not name.
And I’ve seen the sun go down on Sacré-Cœur.
But I like it much better goin’ down on you.
Ah, you know that’s true.”



June 28 - Day 26 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I can play on an instrument

My instrument is my voice and even then I’m not a terribly proficient singer. I learned a little piano a dozen years ago but not much ever came of it. I can’t even work a tambourine reliably. But back in Grades 7, 8, and 9, I played the trumpet and I didn’t totally suck. I wasn’t anywhere near good, but I wasn’t terrible and I somewhat enjoyed playing it. For my Grade 9 music final, I had to play the “Turkish March”. Well, a REALLY stripped down version of it. Have you heard this thing played on a trumpet before? It’s crazy. The arrangement I played didn’t have half the notes that it’s supposed to, I’m sure. Anyway, I think with a little bit of practice I could probably play it again and not scare away small woodland creatures.

Here’s Richard House playing the proper version of Rondo alla Turca (Piano Sonata No. 11. KV 331) “Turkish March” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on the trumpet WAY better than I ever could:



And just for fun, here’s a six-year-old playing it on the piano:



June 29 - Day 27 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I wish I could play

All of them? I’m sure this changes on a day-to-day basis and it’s also likely dependent on what instrument I wish I could play as well. For this exercise, I’m going with the guitar. While it would be awesome to shred the ax playing some fancy ass diddly-diddly stuff, I’m actually thinking of going with something that has more of an acoustic feel to it.

I’ve always been a fan of Pink Floyd and this one has been a favourite of mine around the campfire since high school. As far as I can tell it’s not a terribly difficult song to play, or at least there appear to be ways to play it that make it look not very hard to play.
The song also sums up how I feel a lot of the time when something good is happening because no matter who I’m surrounded by in that moment there’s always someone missing that I wish was there.



June 30 - Day 28 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me feel guilty

I have a thing for Dana Delaney. I think she was legitimately my first actress crush. I can remember watching her on China Beach, unblinking with my jaw agape. She has done many a movie in her amazing career and plays the part of Josephine Marcus in the 1993 movie Tombstone. In this film, Delaney sings a bit of Red River Valley, oft credited to James Kerrigan though its origins are up for debate. The song has been widely covered including versions by such greats as Woody Guthrie, Jo Stafford, and Bing Crosby.

It makes me feel guilty because my friend, Sean, lent me his VHS copy of that movie at some point and I completely forgot about it. Of course, when he came looking for it I adamantly denied having it. Naturally, it turned up in a box 20 years later during one of my house moves. Sorry, Sean.

Here’s Dana Delaney singing it.



July 1 - Day 29 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from my childhood

Day 29 fell on the 150th birthday of this great nation I was born into. So, it’s only fitting that for this song choice I pick a Canadian artist to represent. Due to the CRTC’s requirements for “Canadian Content” on the radio, I grew up familiar with a good number of Canadian artists. The Box, Gowan, The Guess Who, Neil Young (and oh, how it pains me to list The Box and Gowan with the latter two), Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen (RIP), Gordon Lightfoot (who once passed out in my grandpa’s bathtub after my dad threw a party when my grandparents were out of town)… the list goes on.

For this one, though, I’m making an unlikely choice. Back in my elementary school days, I had a crush on the younger sister of a kid in my class. I didn’t dare mention it to anyone out of fear that he would have pummelled me. Anyway, this girl loved two things: The Montreal Canadiens and Corey Hart. Her list of loves is a bit longer today, but seeing as we’re Facebook friends I can assure you that those two are still on it.

Here’s one for Canada’s 150th birthday and my German Mills Public School crush, Laurie :-)



July 2 - Day 30 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

My favourite song at this time last year

For me, the last day of this challenge was July 2nd. A year ago I really couldn’t tell you what my favourite song was. Of all-time, maybe, but for *that moment* I don’t think I would have had a clue. I don’t listen to the radio much and most of what is played on it is crap anyway. There was a song that got a bit more airtime on my iPod though and that was Little Red Corvette by Prince.

I used to have my brother-in-law’s old red Pontiac Vibe, which I traded my minivan for to his sister after he died. I then gave it to his mother after I bought myself a brand new red Mazda3 Sport. It’s not much of a mid-life crisis, but hey, it’s what I could afford. Then, in June of 2016 I was in a fairly serious accident and my little red car was totaled. Fortunately, I escaped with only minor injuries (and one doozy of a panic attack).

At the end of June I bought myself another little Mazda3 Sport, only by the time I test drove it to the time I bought one the red one was gone and I needed a new car so I had to settle for the black one. I would put on Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” to remind me of the good times I had in my own version of the classic sports car.

Now, Prince (and now Prince’s estate) was a bit wiggy about his stuff appearing on YouTube so I can’t find any videos of him singing this song. Apparently he had a bug up his butt about it. Anyway, here’s a solid cover.




~ Andrew