Monday, December 18, 2017

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

It is not clear to me if visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere have picked up on the themes here at Potato Chip Math but here they are:
  • Views into a (new) writer's world
  • Community
  • Creativity & Inspiration (how people find it, what forms it takes, how to recognize it, what to do when you, the importance of it, etc)
  • Self-Improvement / Growth / Mental & Physical Health
I tend to write a lot about being a writer on this blog. It makes sense given it's a profession that I have been working towards for some time now. However, one of the aspects of being a writer, and the art of writing in general, is that you also have to be a reader. This is one area in which I will always need improvement but it is also one in which I will take great pleasure in improving.

There are literally millions of books published year-over-year though, so how does a person even begin to choose? For me, the preference is given to people I know personally who have written books. I know what goes into bringing a novel into the world and it's the absolute least I can do to buy one from a peer and give it a read. In doing this, I have found that my interests have shifted from some the big names I used to read to some other authors who have books or series that I find much less formulaic and mass produced.

Why is this? Well to put it simply, the stories are better.

I would encourage every reader out there to ask a writer, or a friend, or a librarian, or someone who works at a bookstore (even a big chain bookstore), or a teacher, or even that person in the coffee shop or on the bus/subway/streetcar/train reading a book you've never heard of for a recommendation. Some of them won't work out, but that's okay. Not every book is suitable for everyone. But I guarantee you that you'll find some gems that years from now you'll be wondering why more people don't know about them.

With this in mind, I am going to start a new feature here at Potato Chip Math I have aptly named Have You Read Any... 

The idea is simple. Every now and then I will profile an author from whom I have read at least one book that I particularly enjoyed. Sometimes I will know the writer personally, sometimes not, but in every case, it will be someone who isn't currently a "big name" author (e.g. you won't find me endorsing Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and the like).

Without further ado, I present the pilot episode of Have You Read Any...

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

A.J. Aalto is a biologist, a student of criminal psychology & behaviour, an axe-throwing belly dancer, a poor Sudoku puzzler, a badge bunny, a PVP gamer, and a goofball. When not studying murder or writing dick jokes, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at life. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.

In addition to all the aforementioned characteristics, she is the author of one of my favourite series, The Marnie Baranuik Files.

Marnie is a rare dual-talented psychic with a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. Her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart, and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at her remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, she isn’t particularly eager to stick her neck out again, but her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Follow Marnie, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, Kill Notch, and a host of other characters as they battle ghouls, goblins, ogres, orcs, revenants, zombies, and more.

In order, here are the links:
There are also shorts that tie into but can be read independently from, the series that A.J. calls Marnie Baranuik Between the Files stories.
But that's not all! Yes, that's right, there's more!

One of the principal characters in the Marnie books, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, a 400-year-old revenant with a propensity for fancy Olde English and some serious skills in the kitchen, has a cookbook.
Finally, A.J. has written one of hopefully many more non-Marnie books. Closet Full of Bones is a gripping psychological thriller that is next up on my reading list.

A.J. creates complex characters that invoke strong feelings in the reader as they weave their way through clever plot lines and a world built with intricate detail. My fifteen-year-old daughter is absolutely hooked on the Marnie books as much as I am and I suggest picking up a copy of Touched and beginning your journey toward Baranuik addiction as soon as you can.

~ Andrew



Are you a writer that wants to be featured on Have You Read Any... Are you a reader with a favourite author you'd like to see featured? Place the book or author link in the comments or send me an email (potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll put them on the list of books to pick up and read.

Please note that it is not necessary to provide me free copies of any books in exchange for a Have You Read Any... feature. I prefer printed books anyway so I'll buy them like everyone else. Regardless of whether or not the author gets a spot on my blog, if they aren't published with Oghma Creative Media I will be sure to leave a review.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

There is a lot of sadness, corruption, and hate in the world. Nations are committing genocide, North Korea has nukes and might actually be disturbed enough to use them, over a hundred First Nations communities in Canada don't have clean drinking water, Flint Michigan, a city in the wealthiest country in the world, doesn't have clean drinking water--and hasn't for years--and the leader of that country is a complete and total dipshit. Terrible human, just terrible. Sad!

Fear not, my friends, for there is more to this than doom and gloom. There are good people everywhere. They may not solve the world's problems, and they likely won't do it on a newsworthy scale, but they will do good things and those good things will not go unnoticed. Those good things will mean the world to somebody. Somebody who needed something good to happen. Something to pick them up because they are down. Something to help them survive one more day. Something to remind them that the world is not all bad. Something that will make them smile. 

I witness, hear, or read about these occurrences on a regular basis, and occasionally I get to experience them. Two such deeds happened to bring smiles of pure joy to my children and I feel they are both worth sharing. One was planned and one was totally random, but both helped show my family that the community in which we live has some genuinely good people in it. They were small things in the grand scheme of things, but they were also big things because they showed my children that there are random good people everywhere. In both cases, I am certain these small deeds will help my children grow to be good people themselves. Better than they are now (which is pretty darned amazing.)

First up, Linda from the Temple Baptist Church. 

When my daughter started ninth grade I started driving her to a bus stop that was a little closer to her school to reduce her travel time roughly in half. Every day would take this one corner and pass the Temple Baptist Church and their sign on the corner. Every Monday the sign had a new message and over the course of the year, it became a "thing" for us. It was just a little father/daughter bonding moment that would not have seen like much to anyone else, but for us, it was a few seconds that we got to share.

As we approached her fifteenth birthday I got the idea to ask the church if they would change the sign and extend birthday greetings as a surprise to her. So, roughly a week before her birthday I found the church's website and sent them an email.

In my message, I explained that we were not religious but every day we pass their sign and it often sparked discussion for the remainder of the drive and if they would be so kind as to change it for one day so that I could surprise my daughter for her birthday.

Linda replied to me in short order and said, of course, they would change the sign. Just like that. No questions asked (other than her name and what the message would be). I offered to make a donation to their church to thank them for their kindness and this was the response I received:
"No payment is expected. We care about you and Avery very much even though we have never met! Pleased to do this for you."
Linda even sent me a warning email the afternoon before telling me that they had to change the sign that afternoon because the person who performs that task wasn't going to be around early enough the next morning (we drive past it a few minutes after seven o'clock). So, I drove home from work and made up an excuse to pick up my daughter from school and I drove her home a different route instead of the route the bus would have taken, which would have seen her stopping on the corner right by the sign.

The next morning, I made up another excuse (so many lies!) about why I was recording video in the car so I could capture her reaction. Watch for yourself.



I think it all went about as well as it could have (except my voice in the video. In my defense, I was a little verklempt).



Next up, Mark, a music lover in Cambridge.

One week at my son's drum lesson I asked his teacher, Vic, how far he should get in his book before I buy him a new snare. His existing one was a little worse for wear and was held together with duct tape, but I wanted him to have to work for it. Vic told me there was one for sale in the store, used, for something like $60 and was a great deal in his opinion. 

Well, I got mired in a financial snafu with my bank and didn't get the chance to buy the drum (figuring I would eventually spring it on Dude at the appropriate time). The next week we get to class and Vic calls me in, which is weird because I never get called in. 

He sits us down and says that word got out to the guy who bought the drum that Dude was in the market to replace his duct tape special and this guy refurbished the snare (according to Vic he must have put over $100 into it) and asked Vic to give it to Dude. All he wanted in return was a picture of Dude with the drum. 

The generous music lover's name is Mark Parnell (possibly spelled differently) and after I texted him this photo and thanked him I asked him if he was on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter so I could give him a proper shout-out. He wrote back that he was not and that the smile on Dude's face was all the thanks he needed. 

Thank you, Mark. You made our day, and while Dude is no Neal Peartyethe's going to practice with that snare and enjoy it a lot more than the old one. 





BONUS GOOD DEED!

My across-the-street neighbour, Mohammed. 

One morning, I awoke to the smell of gas in the house, so I got everyone outside and called the fire department. They came and shut the gas off and aired the house out and called the gas company. My wife took the kids to get McDonald's breakfast and I waited outside across the street.

It was early morning in October and I was standing across the street on the sidewalk in my pajamas and bare feet freezing my little piggies off and my neighbour came out of his house. Now, Mohammed and I had spoken exactly two words to each other in the six years I had lived across the street from him (we've said "hello" twice). He's quiet and keeps to himself. He has a nice lawn. He knows when it's yard waste day. I'm not very sociable with the neighbours, which at the time was partially due to the fact I had the crappiest lawn on the block and was self-conscious that my neighbours were all annoyed by it.

Anyway, Mohammed walked over to me and asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and told him that we'd be allowed back in the house soon. Nothing to worry about, etc, etc. Then, he looked down at my feet and asked, "Do you want me to get you some shoes?" No one had ever offered me shoes before. I didn't even get a chance to respond and he pointed to my feet. "You must be cold. Let me get you some shoes."

It turns out I didn't need the shoes as we were let back into our house shortly thereafter, but the gesture stuck with me.



So there you have it. Three small deeds or gestures that, at a minimum, show there are at least three people where I live that are ready to do some good anytime they feel it's needed. I, for one, couldn't be happier because I know that in my city and the region that surrounds it, there are over half a million people and the good ones far outnumber any others.

Start looking for people performing good deeds and random acts of kindness in the places where you live, work, and play. I bet you dollars to doughnuts it won't take you long to find them. When you do, tell me about it down in the comments so everyone can see that the good news can travel just as fast as the bad.

~ Andrew

Monday, November 27, 2017

More Music Mastery

Another one of those post-a-song-a-day things is circulating on Facebook and I thought I'd give it a go. This time the list of "challenges" looks like this:


I've tried to do a little write-up for each one but some days are better than others. Here are the first twelve days:

Day 1 - A song you like with a colour in the title
There are lots of songs with the colour red in them and I wanted something a little darker. Well, black is as dark as it gets! Plus, Led Zeppelin.




Day 2 - A song you like with a number in the title
21 Guns by Green Day - I like Green Day.




Day 3 - A song that reminds you of summertime
I considered this song for the upcoming Day 8 (A song about drugs or alcohol) but this song makes me think more about summer than it does about drugs. I'm not sure if it's the imagery painted by Victoria's lyrics or what, but this song makes me think about dry, dusty fields and hanging out on sweltering hot days with some friends




Day 4 - A song that reminds you of someone you'd rather forget 
I wrote a blog post (http://www.potatochipmath.com/2012/10/an-untitled-post-about-bullying.html) about some of the memories that got kicked up when I went a did a favour for an old high school acquaintance by playing a fighting street person for this video. Thankfully, I'm not a big follower of hip hop & rap (though do enjoy it on occasion) and I don't come across this song too often




Day 5 - A song that needs to be played loud 
Oh my god, so many choices. I don't know where to begin. Obviously, AC/DC came to mind, then Van Halen and Metallica, and Guns N' Roses... and we have a winner. I cannot listen to Paradise City by Guns N' Roses without having to crank the sound to eleven.




Day 6 - A song that makes you want to dance
I am not known to be a dancer. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. That said, there's one song that makes me groove every time (in as much as I am capable of grooving). The thing is, I hate the lyrics to the original and have little respect for the original artist as a musician or even a human. Fortunately for me, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody with much better lyrics but with the same musical groove. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic. Music by that dipshit Robin Thicke




Day 7 - A song to drive to
Are you kidding me?
"My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about. He says it used to be a farm, before the Motor Law." 
This is a song about driving a well preserved red Barchetta sports car. It's a fantastic song and perfect for driving fast on winding country roads.I love driving to this tune.
"Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware" 




Day 8 - A song about drugs or alcohol 
Hmmm. Let's see... which one of the 37 million songs about drugs or alcohol should I choose? I'm going to go with Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. Come on, this just comes right out and says it clear as day, 
"Everybody must get stoned." 
It could not be more fitting that there's a video of this song being sung by Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead.




Day 9 - A song that makes you happy 
Say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but I love this song. I can't help but turn it up and sing along and smile. I like the album version better overall but watching Ed do this one with just an acoustic guitar and a loop machine is pretty damn cool. Plus, seeing a bunch of kids sing this at the KW Glee boot camp this summer was awesome too 




Day 10 - A song that makes you sad
There was a stretch where every time I found out about someone dying this song would play on the radio shortly thereafter. Plus, it's a sad song. Even though it's a song about hope and hanging on and knowing you're not alone in your struggles, the fact is there are still so many struggling that there is, at best, one degree of separation between yourself and someone to whom this song applies. This song makes me sad, but I'll be okay. If this song applies to you and you need someone to hold onto or just be present, give me a call. Send me a text or an email. 
"Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts." 




Day 11 - A song you never get tired of
I don't know what it is about this song that sticks with me, but something does. I think it's probably my favourite U2 song out of their whole catalog, and for a band that's probably one of my all-time favourties with as many songs as they have that I like that's saying something. The fact they played it on their recent Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour this summer is even better. Like it or don't like it, whatever your preference one thing you can say for sure it's that it's not a bad song #dadjoke #groan 




Day 12 - A song from your preteen years 
In 1985 I was eleven years old. That qualifies as preteen, yes? Well holy shit, would you take a look at the number one songs from that year?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_1985
The list is insanely good. Easily a dozen of those songs popped into my head when I first read the category. How did I pick just one? Easy. I went with the love song from the movie that had Demi Moore in it, of course! I love the intro to this dong and even tried playing it at the piano at summer camp. I never did learn how to, but it's a fun memory regardless. 



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: