Monthly Archives: September 2012

Adventures on the E-Book Frontier: Dispatch Seven

Ready for a taste?

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This week I begin the process of editing Night Town with Iguana Book’s publisher Greg Ioannau. This Tuesday 2pm  to be precise, he’s going to call me. What’s it going to be like? Will my book will still look/feel the same after a surgical intervention?

I’ve been alone for a long time with my characters, and now I have to share them. Since you’ve been with me for the summer, I thought I might give you a sample so here goes. Here’s the prologue and opening to Night Town.


I’ve always been a fire chaser. My Dad, Dr. Theodore ‘Teddy’ Barnes, was a country doctor and he had to be on the scene whenever tragedy struck. But a fire was different. A fire meant every man, woman and child had to be on hand to help. When the village siren rang, our family piled into the Buick and tore down the drive, with me clutching Dad’s emergency kit full of white gauze, scissors, antiseptic and pain medication. My two younger brothers, Frank and Tedder, jammed on top of one another, bounced around in the back seat of Dad’s car that was always full of medical journals, bags of forgotten cookies and drug company samples. Mom tried to ignore the mess under her feet, keeping her eyes trained on the horizon looking for signs of smoke.

The only fire truck in the area belonged to a town about ten miles off, so it was usually up to the locals to deal with the fire themselves. Neighbours would run across the fields, anxious to help a farming family save their home and livelihood. Dad, in his fedora, applied tourniquets and salves, while yellow flames, the colour of Mom’s bandana, licked the sky. The rest of us lined up in long bucket brigades that streamed from deep rural wells.

But a doctor’s family and a bunch of friends aren’t always enough to stop a barn full of dry hay from burning straight up to heaven and right down to hell. Our family, the whole community, would stand there, praying that the fire didn’t flash and spread along the grass and light up the house, taking everything the owners had with them. Back then few had insurance. And even if they did, I never heard of any good luck coming from a bad fire. But even when the flames took everything I secretly looked forward to the next one. I loved them. Fires have a personality. Nobody could stop them. No person. No nothing.

Chapter One

Our family lived in a three story white frame house with a deep wooden veranda in a small town called Sterling in southwesternOntario. Dad’s medical practice was on the main floor of one side of the house, and we lived on the other. The day after they moved in, Mom carefully stripped the veranda floor, stained the wood, and bought matching his and hers chaises. She loved the two stately horse chestnut trees that stood on either side of the house, certain they’d keep the home cool in the summer. Instead, the trees mercilessly dropped their blossoms and nuts into the eaves and Mom spent nearly every weekend up on a ladder.  There was no lassoing Dad into doing the job because he always used the same excuse, “I think that sick people are more important don’t you?” Mom, on her way out the back door in her gardening gloves, didn’t look so sure.

The house was located on the busiest road in the village, a murderous stretch of Highway 10 that turned intoMcKenzie Streetas it made its way through Sterling and shot out again at the other end of town. McKenzie began at a gas station and short order restaurant at the top of the hill that served truckers, mostly burgers, fries and pies. The hurtling trucks, their drivers jacked up on instant coffee, sped by our house at breakneck speeds and more than once an unfortunate family pet was chewed up and cast aside by a thundering eighteen wheeler. When all that remained of the neighbours’ three year old apricot poodle who loved to hump children, was a smashed jewel-encrusted collar, Mom and Dad sat me down and sternly warned me to never ever leave the back yard. But back then I was only five and down the street, within eyeshot if I craned my neck, stood Comfort’s Diner. A candy castle of chips, toffee and creamy chocolate milkshakes poured from frosty stainless steel blenders. It was also full of older kids doing things that were a lot more fun than what was going on at my house.

The first time I was discovered sneaking across the neighbours’ backyard to Comfort’s, Mom gave me a ‘love tap’, which was my mother’s version of a spanking. No pants were ripped down. No belt flying around or low growls about the woodshed. I was tapped and sent to my room where I dug out my Chatty Kathy doll from underneath the bed. I’d begun an operation earlier that day and was trying to remove Kathy’s voice box from her chest with a screwdriver.

“I love you, do you love me?” Kathy asked.

She didn’t have a top on. I used to love Kathy when I got her for Christmas, but now I was more interested in trying to see what made her talk than listening to what she had to say. While I was digging a screwdriver into Kathy’s back there was a long howling screech of tires followed by a horrible mangled bang, punctuated by a woman’s scream. Forgetting my punishment, I dropped the screwdriver and ran down the stairs, following Mom out the door and onto the veranda. Mom was round and pregnant, looking like the moon on legs. We ran across the snow-covered lawn.

Dad was already there, on his hands and knees in a pool of red, cradling a little girl younger than me in his lap. Blood ran out of the back of her head seeping into Dad’s trousers. One eye was open, staring at the sky. The other was shut. The driver had both hands clamped over his mouth while the mother screamed for Dad to save her little girl. Mom approached the mother, wrapping her arm around her shoulder, drawing her close. They were a new family who’d moved in last year.

“Why don’t you come into the house,” Mom said, gently pulling the woman away from the road. “Teddy will do all that he can.”

I just stood there and stared as Dad lifted the child from the road. How could she be alive? Her neck was twisted like Chatty Kathy’s when I spun her head around. I followed Dad as he carried the girl across the snow. Her head lolled in the crook of his arm, face tilting towards the sky. The sidewalks were filling with grim-faced spectators, some in coats, most not, while a police siren howled in the distance. Could that ever happen to me? Running ahead of Dad I threw open the office door. He carried the little girl into an examining room and carefully set her on the examining table. He glanced down at her limp body and started to cry. My fists rolled themselves into hard balls. I didn’t like it when my father cried. It made me antsy.

“Can you save her Dad?”

“She’s dead.”

Gently he closed her open eye and pulled a white sheet up over the little girl’s body. Was she a ghost now? Could she fly likeCasperor was she just dead and buried like President Kennedy? Everyone was so upset when he died a few months earlier. The neon sign from Comfort’s Diner flickered through the office window – a faint flashing of red against the blue sky of the dwindling day.

Questions, comments or salutations? Jump in. Now is the time to be heard.


Adventures on the E-Book Frontier: Dispatch Six

I just returned from the

While for me, Russia came off as a showy strumpet who clearly threw buckets of rubles  to create easily the most bling bling pavilion, there is no denying the digital appeal of their show.

I walked into the first of three domed rooms, cleverly decorated with tiling that was very highly representative of Russia’s culture past.  An eager young woman handed me a pin (again very representative of the days of yore when Russia was always handing out pins to visitors advertising the glory of the former Soviet Union) plus a shiny new Samsung tablet. (Psst….Samsung gave out a ton of free tech at the event.)

I was told to aim at the tablet at the tiles, and any time a tile lit up, I was to scan it and would be given access to the secret information. I snatched the tablet and scampered into the room. Oh… how exciting!

Well, do you think I could get the damned thing to work? At one point the same eager young woman came over to me and said, “Oh….There are 35 stories here and you’ve only accessed one.”  “I know,” I said, “Isn’t that sad?” “Don’t worry,” she replied, gently patting my shoulder. “That’s why you’ve got the pin. You take it home, scan it with your computer’s camera and all of the information will appear. We are very proud that there is not one piece of paper as part of our exhibit.”

I grumped out of the building,  bitching about stupid technology, but after some reflection, I realized that if I was going to be part of the 21st century I needed to buy a tablet or I would be left behind.

There was much ado about these tablets and/or digital tiles at The Biennale.

The Canadians used them to tell architectural tales about the experience of immigration.

Venezula used them to discuss the distinct challenges their cities face.

And then old peep show technology was utilized in both Cyprus, where I luxuriated on a beach chair watching the show…

As well as in Brazil where I wandered from peep to peep, sneaking a look into private lives of a Brazilian home.


Once again, lots of story and tons of design going on here, but not much paper back up.

This is not to say that there was no paper all all, of course there were some gorgeous catalogues as well as some takeaway stuff,  but printed material was definitely on the wane.

I left the Biennale feeling more certain than ever that I have made the right choice by going digital with my novel. If that’s becoming the primary conduit of architectural discourse, then heck, who am I to argue?







Adventures on the E-Book Frontier: Dispatch Five

One of the most important and difficult things (at least at this point in time) about the e-publishing game is what I fundamentally see as utterly shameless self promotion. Such as trying to promote this blog.

I have my whole family taking these now. My daughter experiences less stomach aches and everyone has less gas. . Many rogue pharmacies are happy to bypass a doctor’s prescription in order to win your business.

Mohammad Ali loved to promote himself.  Me, I was raised to believe that you’re not supposed to talk about yourself; that decent, modest human beings enter into conversations with others to draw them out. To make them feel comfortable and not to blather on endlessly about ourselves.

Sometime in the last 10 or 15 years this etiquette of personal humility flew out the window and an enormously large, self-important bird of personal praise cruised in and kicked humility off its perch.

But the times are different now – especially for writers accustomed to being cloistered away in their studies, only emerging to hand over the manuscript, get notes from the editor and then scuttle back into the study and lock the door.

Since the good ship Publishing Company (the one with the deep pockets that handed out advances and had a fleet of editors, plus mega publicity and promotions departments) struck the rocks, most writers are now expected to shill promote their own work.

This is my promotional plan thus far. I want to spend the next seven months preparing for the launch of Night Town. I want a lick your lips, anticipatory build up such as the world has never seen. Do you think I should link to FB and Twitter on my blog page or is that overkill?

I’m going to post excerpts from the book within the blog, podcast small, yet riveting passages of Night Town that will have you twisting like a junkie on day two of a detox begging for more, and host small get-togethers in pubs for readings.

Now what else…What would you advise?

How about me dangling off the top of the CN Tower with a megaphone bellowing about the book?

Too much? You tell me. We’re on this journey together and I intend for it to be one heck of a ride. Oh and BTW, have you told your friends to link to my blog yet? All they have to do is type their name into the newspaper in the dog’s mouth.

Thanks CB