October 26, 2014

It's In You To Give

I had a post all queued up about "success" for this week but something happened last Monday and Tuesday that has led me to move that post to next week - the first Sunday of NaNoWriMo. It's a better post for the start of the 30 day novel writing campaign anyway. This week I want to talk about what happened last week and the profound impact it's had on me, and how I feel about charity and giving.

A few months ago a Facebook friend of ours had to have surgery. Brain surgery. Real dangerous shit. He's the real estate agent who drove us around for two days back in 2009 and showed us almost 30 homes and ultimately helped us buy the house we have lived in for the past 5 years. He even did the final walk through so my wife and I wouldn't have to fly in from Ottawa to do it. We've stayed in touch on Facebook since then and followed the changes in his life, as he and his wife had their first child and then proudly announced earlier this year that another one was on the way.

During his surgery he almost died. He started to bleed and wouldn't stop. There was something like a 1% chance of this happening and it did. It took blood donations from 60 people to save his life. They pumped 12 litres of blood into him to keep him alive. 12 litres. His body only holds 4. He came out of surgery without a single drop of the blood he went in with - 3 times over.

Healing and grateful to be alive he decided to give a little back and hold a blood drive down at the local Canadian Blood Services location in Waterloo and he asked all his friends on Facebook if they would consider donating.

I had low blood iron for the longest time and then was on some pretty fun medications after that and had never donated before. Being med free and with a healthy hemoglobin level right now the only thing stopping me was a healthy fear of needles and queasiness at the sight of blood, which seemed like really lame-ass excuses. So I booked my first ever appointment to donate blood for Tuesday of last week.

Then, in what can only be described as a karmic twist of the Universe, the Monday before my blood donation appointment my wife and I found out that our daughter does not weigh enough to bank her own blood before her surgery. You see, she has severe scoliosis and needs to have spinal surgery in the new year to have metal rods cemented and screwed into her spine to keep it straight. It's a 10 hour surgery and if not everything goes as planned she'll need blood. Better it's her own than someone else's too. Only now that was not possible.

My wife cannot donate because of some funky rule that prohibits donations from people who lived in France for more than 3 months during certain years. Seeing as she lived there for a year during one of those years she's ineligible (something about mad cow disease and not being able to test for it until after you're dead). I will be tested for compatibility (blood type, antibodies, etc...) and if I'm a match I will provide a directed donation to have on hand for my daughter's surgery. I'll only be able to donate a couple litres though. A worst case scenario would see her needing more than what I can offer.

That means there'll be blood on hand from the blood bank. I really hope none of it will be needed, but it's awfully reassuring that it's there if it is in fact needed.

So on Tuesday I went in and donated blood for the first time. It was almost completely painless, everyone was very supportive, and I got to have juice and cookies afterwards. My friend was even there talking with all the people donating and thanking them. If I'm being completely honest, I felt really good about it. The best way I can describe it was that I felt like I was making an immediate and profound impact on somebody's life. I went home afterwards proudly sporting my "First Time Donor" pin and feeling great (though getting out of bed the next morning was a challenge. I was really tired!)

I've been telling people this story ever since and am encouraging everyone to go find out if they are able to give blood, and if they are to please donate. It makes a difference. It saved my friend's life and could very well save my daughter's.

~ Andrew

P.S. I'm cross posting this on our family scoliosis journey blog. Read up on what we're going through, and what it's like to go down this path as part of the Canadian medical system.

October 19, 2014

Pop, Bang, Pow!

Canadian Man Involved in Detroit Shooting

I fired my first gun today. Discharged my first weapon? However you're supposed to say it I can tell you that it was awesome, and not at all what I expected.

I briefly considered making the subheading the title of the post but then thought I'd catch heat for posting click-bait stuff so I went with something a little more onomatopoeic. Given this is a post on the topic of guns I think it's a safe play, but on with the story.

First off, let's get this out of the way. This is not a post on what I, or anyone else, thinks about handguns and the laws and/or rights involved. This is a post about my first experience firing one, and why I decided to go to the range and do it.

It all started with this scene I wrote for what will end up being either Book #2 or Part II of Book #1. It was my first murder. Ex military vet takes his sidearm and blows a hole through someone's head at point blank range. After writing the scene I never really gave it much thought. That was, until I read a recent blog post by Chuck Wending of the topic of writing scenes involving firearms, and how it's important to get the details right.

Step 1 according to Chuck: "If you want to write about guns, go fire one"

Whoops. I had already failed. In my defence I am Canadian and this isn't exactly a haven for handgun owners. Lots of hunting rifles kicking around (though I've never even fired a .22), but pistols? Not so much.

Well, as luck would have it I was in a wedding yesterday in Plymouth, Michigan. It was just a 3.5 hour drive (plus border wait time) and as I was driving to the church I saw various signs for gun shows and gun ranges and what-have-you. It dawned on me that I could probably get someone from the wedding to take me to a range!

Sure enough, I met some fantastically wonderful people at the wedding (none of them Chuck Norris, though this ex-Viet Nam vet at my table looked a lot like Robert Duval) and a good number of them gave me a lot of information on guns and gun ownership in the state of Michigan. One of them was even kind enough to offer to take me to the range after breakfast the next day (Robert Duval's lookalike's son).

After signing a few sheets of paper and handing over my passport it was decided that due to the nature of the scene I was writing, the character doing the shooting would be using a military issue 1911 pistol. Loreya, a former marine who really knows her firearms gave me a brief history lesson on the weapon, a pair of goggles and ear protection, and sent me on my way with my range escort and his wife (who recorded parts of the session for me). I really wish I had asked who made the specific model I was given (because every gun manufacturer makes a 1911) but it was a .45 calibre and looked a heck of a lot like this (my range buddy thinks it was a Colt too):

The first thing I learned: it was heavy. Much heavier than I expected. I am told that there are many pistol out there that are lighter but my guy would be using this so this is what I fired. It was heavy. The wrist and fingers on my non-dominant hand are also very weak and having broken a slight sweat I found it difficult to pull the slide back when I needed to. This is not a weapon for not-so-strong or untrained or inexperienced person to be packin'.

The second thing I learned: guns are loud. Having never been to a gun range before the only reference I had was a few YouTube videos and television or movies. Even with the earmuffs on you got a real appreciation for how loud these things are. Apparently the specific bullet manufacturing, in addition to its calibre, and the type of weapon being fired all factor in to the sound you hear. I was expecting "pop" but my gun went "bang" or possibly even "pow". Either way, it was loud. Before I started shooting I heard my first live gunshot from two lanes over. I'm not sure what he was firing but from the sound of it I can only assume it was a small hand held cannon. Forget "pop", "bang", or "pow". This damn thing went "BOOM!"

Here's my first ever shot. There's lots of other weapons being fired but you can probably pick out the sound of my shot. You tell me what sound it makes:

Before you ask, yes, I hit the target. It wasn't quite centered from left to right and was a bit high. I started at 25 feet, which the range master informed me was a bit far away for what I was trying to accomplish. At that distance I didn't get into the center and everything was going left (just like my golf shots).

The third thing I learned was if one is right handed, one should close their left eye and not their right. This small change improved things greatly, but I was still shooting a bit to the left and a little low, at one point nailing my target pretty close to his nuts. 

The fourth thing I learned is that the casings fly out of the gun really fast and then bounce off the walls or ceiling or whatever else they hit, like my face. I was lucky enough that on my first shot the casing bounced off the wall and hit the person shooting my video. She picked it up and gave it to me after.

Range master brought the target in to 12 feet, explaining that that was more of the distance I would be working with. We made sure the chamber was empty and the clip was out and then we did a little test. He brought the target to me from 12 feet. The instant I saw it move I was to reach down, pick up the gun,get two hands on it, and pretend to squeeze off a round. 

The fifth thing I learned was if I'm ever being rushed by an assailant from 12 feet or less and I have access to a loaded, unholstered weapon I may as well have access to cooked spaghetti for all the good it will do me. 

At 12 feet I was much better, emptying two clips into the center rectangle and even putting one right on the "X", with only one missing a bit low. Then things got interesting. Range master (I really wish I had gotten his name! Bad researcher I am) suggested I aim for the little guy up in the top left corner. he put a little sticker in the middle of him so I'd know if I hit the sweet spot. 

I squeezed off something like 9 shots at the little guy and 6 of them connected, with 1 even grazing the sticker. Two of the three I missed, missed way high but stayed on the paper. Neither range master nor myself had much explanation for it. I just forgot to aim, twice, in almost the exact same way. It was strange. 

This is where I learned my last lesson of the day: the world is a much safer place if I am not in possession of a firearm. 

~ Andrew

Special thanks go out to:

  • Chuck Wendig - for his timely blog post
  • Alexander and Stephanie - for having me at their wedding and seating me at a great table
  • Robert and his wife Victoria - for keeping me company, taking me to the range, teaching me stuff, and recording/photographing
  • Loreya - for her service in the marines, the history lesson, and for being just so darned cheerful and helpful getting me set up for my first shoot
  • Range Master whose name I did not get (and for that I feel genuine shame) - for his THIRTY YEARS of service on the Detroit Police Force, and for all his tips and tutelage on the range
  • Action Impact Firearms & Training Center - for running a top notch establishment with excellent staff and for letting this wide eyed Canadian get his bad ass groove on for half an hour

October 12, 2014

Whisky Is My Muse

With only 19 days left until November 1st it is time to make an important decision: to NaNo or not to NaNo? I have attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, failing in my first attempt but succeeding in the last two. This year, however, I'm torn. You see, I have a fully written novel and it requires a good amount of editing. I'm about one third through my first pass of identifying plot gaps (in come cases chasms) and other major blunders. I should be able to get through the remaining two thirds in a few weeks, and then take a week or so to go back and make some of the additions that I have identified.

That would put me in a pretty good spot to start shopping this baby around sometime early in the new year. On the other hand, I have a half written novel I've been sitting on since last NaNo that I really should finish off. It would be nice to have two completed novels under my belt. On the other, other hand, I have this entirely different idea that should squeeze into roughly 60,000 words and make for a nice short little novel that I think would make a great introductory piece for my future readers.

Decisions, decisions.

By Serge Bertasius Photography at http://freedigitalphotos.net 

I really want to move along my finished novel, but the unfinished piece has been sitting for far too long as well. Plus, I really don't want to anger my muse by ignoring a right proper good idea for too long. Argh!

How to tell if you are a writer:
  1. Do you write?
  2. Do you have more projects started than you have completed?
  3. Do you think procrastination should be an Olympic event?
If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above then congratulations! You are a writer. 

Here's the thing: I enjoy writing, but I'm a bit lazy turd, but I must also exercise my creativity or I start to get twitchy and depressed. This is why I blog, take a photo a day (as well as many others), write novels, short stories, am about to start a podcast, and write lyrics. Of all these things it's the writing that I find most rewarding. As mentioned last week, I'm giving it more attention in the next few weeks and through November in hopes I can keep the groove going into the new year, but with what?

Methinks the editing and unfinished novel can wait, if only so I can get this idea that's been rattling around out of my head and keep my muse from forgetting about me.

What do you think?

Since we're on the topic, here's the latest song creation by Jim Tigwell and I, inspired by all our friends over at Writers Without Borders. We don't have it recorded yet, but we're working on it.

~ Andrew

By Naypong at http://freedigitalphotos.net

Whiskey is My Muse

Lyrics by Andrew F. Butters
Music by Jim Tigwell

Capo 2 (seriously)

Am             C         G     G
Nothing but potential On the horizon

Am           C          G    G
Close my eyes and feel her warmth

F                                     Am
Standing next to me, Standing next to me

Am        C       G   G
Careful 'cause she is Watching

Am        C       G   G
Open my eyes and look inside

F                               Am
Trying to be free, Trying to be free

Thinking of the options running through my mind
Need something to get started
To get me on my way, To get me on my way
Praying for the answerto my problems
Fighting urges to be weak
And risk staying the same, And risk staying the same

Am      C       E7
Staring at the page

Am          C    G       E7
Listen (to) what she has to say

Am                 C             G
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey

In my veins....

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

Fleeting glimpses of the future
Flash before my eyes
I know there is an answer
All I need is to entice
Too much confusion, too much chaos
Hiding deep inside
There she is providing guidance
But not without a price
Not without a price

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins...
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away

Everything I do

Everything I say

Every word's for you

In every single way

Everything that's yours

And everything that's mine

Even though I'm torn

D                    Am
I think that I'll be fine

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins...
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
All away
All away
All away
All away

October 05, 2014

Why You Should Avoid Pissing Off Writers

So I am planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year and instead of just trying to get 50,000 words down in 30 days I hope to get a completed story out of it as well. I will have to plot this out (blech!) and see where the target word count lands (initial projections have it at 60k or 2,000 words per day). I seriously have to get limbered up. Seeing as I haven't blogged since the summer I plan on getting back to my once a week post schedule. Also, I'm going to polish two chapters of my 2012 NaNo book (which is in editing mode still) and get them off to an editor in the next couple weeks, as well as get through the rest of that book looking for plot holes (chasms in some cases) and major crapola.

For this year's NaNo story I'm going a different direction and it's going to be quite a challenge. My biggest concern is how I am going to generate enough conflict to make it interesting. The good news is, my MC is a total dick so putting him through the wringer and seeing if he comes out the other end better off for it should be quite doable.

My MC doesn't exist. He is no one person. He's the embodiment of several people that I've interacted with over the past twenty years who have left a sour impression for one reason or another, and the MC is going to get his comeuppance for each and every one of those transgressions to which I've born witness.

This is why you should avoid pissing off writers.

We will come up with some of the wildest and most insane punishments you can imagine. Oh sure, we'll put that fancy disclaimer at the beginning of the book: "This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person alive or dead is purely coincidental" but once you start reading the book you'll recognize the crap you pulled and know instantly that when the character was getting his face eaten from the inside out by a colony of fire ants that the author was thinking of you.

So, if you're a gigantic asshole, writers everywhere thank you. Conflict is what makes a novel go 'round and without your "contributions" to society the well we dip into for this stuff would be a lot shallower.

You might be saying, "This may be all well and good for fiction, but what about the real world? You can't just go all Spy vs. Spy on every single person that grates your cheese", and you'd be right. The concept of us versus them is not a new one. Since the dawn of time conflict has been a part of the human race. Let's define things as follows: "us" and "we" can be just one person, a group, collection of like-minded folks, organization, community, tribe, race, or nation. If you fit this definition I want you to listen and listen carefully:

There will always those with whom we don't get along. If they offend our sensibilities, wrong us in some way, marginalize us, oppress us, or harm us, I humbly request that we don't ever sink to their level. Even if we have all the education, skills, money, power, and support in the world behind us, especially if we have all those things, don't do it. Don't sink. If we can't find another way, a better way than them, then it's up to us to seek out help in finding one. If we won't find another way, a better way; if we outright refuse to do this one thing that makes us different than them, then we have become them and we should be ashamed. Find better ways.

~ Andrew