Thursday, June 26, 2014
My stint with Eyes on Isles ended on a bittersweet note back in March. Bitter because of the circumstances under which we parted ways; sweet in that the entire Eyes staff, in an impressive show of solidarity, collectively severed ties with the Fansided network and founded Islanders Insight. Not only is it new and improved, but thanks to the impressive and tireless efforts of the rest of the staff it's pretty visually exciting, not to mention up-to-the-minute informative. Within a matter of days the new site was up and fully functional, and the readership was approaching the size of the one we left behind. Even though it's the off season our editorial staff has kept us moving forward, churning out good stuff and keeping everyone in the loop on all the latest. With the draft in a couple of days and free agency looming on the horizon there's no shortage of news to cover. It's been a great journey so far, everybody really wants to see it succeed, and in just three short months our readership has gone through the roof. It makes me and all the guys really believe we made the right decision, which is always a good feeling.
On the fiction front, things have been more than a little busy too. Several pieces are out there in front of numerous pairs of editorial eyes, with varying levels of success. In May one of my stories appeared in an anthology called Hard Luck from Burnt Offerings Books, a publisher with whom I hope to feature more work over the course of the year. The latest installment from the Twisted Tails series, "Twisted Tails VIII: ParaAbnormal", which contains a pair of my stories, is slated for release any day now. At the risk of sounding immodest, TTVIII is a really strong collection that I'm thrilled to have played a part in creating. I've already got a couple of stories earmarked in some as-yet unannounced projects from Double Dragon Publishing as well, rounding out a pretty solid showing on the DDP front.
Also on the immediate horizon is an appearance that came as a bit of a shock to me. Last week I was approached by the editor of a magazine called Codiac Chronicles and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for an author spotlight feature article. I was thrilled and of course I immediately agreed, and to my great pleasure I'll be featured in the July issue!
It's things like that which never cease to amaze me as I slog through what I still see as the embryonic stages of my writing career. Any time somebody comes to me and knows something I've written, or wants to do an interview, I have to stop and consider that maybe I'm starting to build a small following. The very idea is amazing to me; of course that's been the plan all along, but it's still very surreal and humbling when it starts to actually happen. But it's like my buddy Biff tells me: you never know who's seeing your work once it's out there, and who's taking notice. He's right, of course (he'd be the first to tell you that is seldom not the case), the internet is an immeasurably vast place. My work has appeared not only in print but in ebooks, which opens the door to a whole other generation and reading subculture that grows larger by the day. It's received some pretty flattering reviews, both in terms of the collections and individually. My network of friends and colleagues has grown steadily, to the point where I'm rubbing elbows with some people I grew up looking up to and admiring - and who now actually know who I am!
So that's where I'm at these days: sports writer, fiction writer, and first and foremost, writing fan. One who struggles with the idea that something I've created may have brought some happiness and entertainment to a complete stranger somewhere. And in my book, that's pretty damn cool.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Friday, December 28, 2012
From a very tender age I have been told "you should be a writer" by any number of well-meaning people who, for one reason or another, have enjoyed something or other I've written. Friends, family, teachers, co-workers, have all found a diamond or two in this rough character. For my part, I wholeheartedly agreed with them; writing seems like a nice, easy way to make a living, maybe I'm good enough at it to do just that. A few stutter-steps, false starts, dead ends and pitfalls (and one mildly entertaining blog) later, all I've done with the idea is the same as most people who plan to write for a living do: talk about it. Ok, maybe that's not "all" I've done about it. I did do a short stint in the world of journalism, had a cup of coffee in the media world, and managed to come out the other side none the worse for wear. But overall, according to the blueprint, let's just say I haven't been following the specs as closely as planned.
About four or five years ago I made a conscious decision to get more serious about writing. A little later in life than the original gameplan had called for, but I justify the delay by factoring in the added life experiences, combined with the added seasoning of my writing style, as a sufficient exchange for lost time. Incredibly, next week will mark the fourth anniversary of the debut of So, What Else...? During this time, I have put forth somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty entries, most of which check in at around a thousand words (sometimes my long-windedness has forced extra innings). Not long ago, as I was thinking along these lines, it occurred to me that, even at that half-assed pace, I've written enough material to fill a small- to medium-length book. Add to that the numerous other things I've written: a couple of novels in various stages of disrepair, a bucketload of short stories, even some SWE entries that remain unpublished, and I think it's safe to say my output over those four years - had it been channelled a little better - could have translated into several actual books. Kind of simultaneously encouraging, and disheartening.
Even though there aren't thousands of people hanging off my every word here, and nothing I've written here has led to a monster book deal with a major publisher, I consider SWE a huge success. Firstly, I have stuck with it for four years (albeit sporadically). Over that time there have been thousands of hits on the page, from almost anywhere you can imagine. For example, it seems I have some regular readers in such places as Russia, Iran, Great Britan and France. It's incredible to me that something I've created is interesting 1) to anyone other than myself, but 2) to people in places I've never been anywhere near, not to mention a good number of you right here at home.
Over the past several months I've spent less time with this blog and those of you who read it than I would have liked. It's not that the issues of the day get me any less incensed than they ever did; there is still plenty going on around the world for everyone to rage and complain about, and I'm no different. And I can promise you that, as time goes on, some things will still rankle me to the point of needing to vent about them here. It's just that I'm feeling the need to move in other directions, if not at the direct expense of, then at least simultaneous to, So, What Else...?
I will admit to having spent much more time since the fall on other writing projects, some of which you will hopefully see in much more prominent places than this space in the not-too-distant future. One of which, in fact, is scheduled to appear at http://www.breadnmolasses.com/ as part of their "Twelve Days of Christmas" within the next few days, assuming nothing changes between now and then (edit: I was just now informed by the editor at BnM that I'll be featured tomorrow - I'm Day Five!). There is also another significant project in the works, which I won't tell you much about just yet - not until the final details are all in place. Suffice to say I am thrilled and still a little amazed at the turn of events that led to this one, not to mention where else it's leading to. But I'll keep you posted on these and other projects as they come to fruition, I promise.
I would be lying if I told you I'm ready to take early retirement from my day job and throw myself into the writers' pool. Not so fast. Not a lot of writers - full time, established writers, even - are able to make a living from their craft, and in my case these are just the first baby steps (well, they're not, but they ARE the first baby steps to show some results) only. But the point is, with the help and encouragement of a number of people - regular reassurances, critiques, advice, and much more- in short, a support network that has, quite frankly, pushed me to a level I would not have attained on my own. I'm not where I want to be just yet, but I'm finally working my way in that direction, with results that make me happy. Whether or not it ever goes beyond a small scale operation is anyone's guess. All I can do is write - from the heart, as I always do - and maybe something I come up with will make someone, somewhere, happy. Maybe, after all the time and energy I've put into writing about things that make me angry, that's the least I can do.
Copyright © 2012 SWE Publishing Ltd.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Once upon a time, long ago... on October 14, 2012, to be exact...Wade Hicks, Jr. of Gulfport, Mississippi embarked on a military plane bound for Japan to visit his bride of eight months, who is a member of the US Navy stationed in Okinawa. Our hero made his way to San Francisco, purchased his ticket, jumped through all the security-mandated hoops and, sufficiently cleared for takeoff, took to the skies. One quick layover in Hawaii for fuel and maintenance, and then off to the Land of the Rising Sun. But it was there in Hawaii, that legendary honeymoon destination, where things started to go awry.
Sitting on the tarmac in Oahu, Wade waited patiently for takeoff when he saw two heavily armed military police officers approaching him. They stopped in front of him and told him he was to leave the plane immediately, and come with them. Reluctantly, our confused hero did as he was told and was taken to a small room where, as his plane flew off without him, he sat, waiting, and wondering what exactly was going on.
As a law-abiding American citizen with a valid passport and no criminal record or history, who had in fact recently passed a background check allowing him to possess and carry firearms in his home state, Mr. Hicks was understandably dumbfounded as to what business his captors had with him. He may even have been wondering about some sort of mix-up, a case of mistaken identity perhaps. Hard to imagine in this age of heightened airport security, especially a military airfield, but mistakes happen, after all, he reasured himself. At some point an officer with Customs and Border and Enforcement entered the room shattered his mistaken identity theory. The officer proceeded to confirm Wade's name, date of birth, social security number, and other items which erased any doubt as to whether or not they had the guy they were after.
"How did you get on that plane?" he was asked. When he answered the officer's questions completely, telling him how he'd bought a ticket, passed through security and boarded, he was told this should never have been allowed to happen since he was on the "No-Fly List". This, as you may imagine, came as somewhat of a surprise to him, since as we've already covered, he seems like the opposite of the type of person you'd find on a list like this. Naturally, he wanted to know why he was on this list, and asked. To this, he was told that he was not permitted to know why, just that he'd been placed there, and that he was free to go, but that he couldn't fly anywhere by orders of the United States government.
Now, for some people, being stranded in Hawaii might not seem like such a terrible thing. It's a beautiful place, by all accounts, and a great place to visit. But sooner or later all good thins must come to an end, and it's time to go home. Except he can't, at least not easily. He might be able to get aboard a ship, which would probably deposit him back in California, San Francisco or somewhere. But don't forget, he lives in Mississipi, a fair drive away from San Fran, to say nothing of all the added, unexpected costs a trip like this would entail, or the time involved to make this circuitous route back home. As he noted sardonically shortly after going public with his plight, "Try to get back from Oahu to the (continental) United States. It's a long swim and a long boat ride". On top of all this, he still didn't get to see his wife, and his newfound no-fly status makes that seem unlikely in the immediate future.
There is one thing I haven't told you about Mr. Hicks, which I will do at this point in the interest of full disclosure. He is a stalwart patriot, an outspoken opponent of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act - and for a REALLY scary story, check out the Indefinite Detention Clause in there) and a former radio talk-show host. He is a member of "Patriots for America", and a group called the Mississisppi Preparedness Project. He is, in short, a slightly-more-vocal than-most example of a growing mindset across America over the last several years. Those who feel the Constitution is under assault, and that the rights of Americans are being systematically eroded. Given his current conundrum, it doesn't seem as though he's all that far off the mark, does it?
"They just basically are telling me, 'You can't fly because we said so'", he said in an interview during his imposed exile in paradise. "I was very, very vocal about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and I did contact my representative about (the NDAA)... I do believe that this is tied in some way to my free speech and my political view". Even though officially the government hasn't commented, it's not that unreasonable a leap for him to make. Ironically, the only logical assumption one could make regarding his no-fly status just goes to prove his point about the erosion of the rights of Americans.
This particular story has a happy ending, sort of. Five days into his predicament - five days during which Hicks stayed busy contacting anyone and everyone he thought could help make a difference including various government representatives and media outlets - our hero received a call from a Customs agent, informing him of his removal from the dreaded no-fly list. A sadder and wiser Hicks told a reporter "I guess all the pressure from lawmakers, my congressmen and the media built up, and they had to back peddle and let me go". True enough. But how safe will he feel from here on out, knowing he's on Big Brother's radar, and how little provocation it takes to become labelled a threat to national security? How safe could anyone from the Land of the Free with this knowledge ever feel again?
Copyright © 2012 SWE Publishing Ltd.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Is our society doomed? Sometimes I wonder.
One day not long ago I sat in my truck, in the middle of a parking lot, waiting on my better half to return from whatever store she had disappeared into. While I waited I watched with great interest as a young girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen at most, strolled casually across the lot, never once glancing up from the texting device clutched in her hands. She seemed completely oblivious to the traffic swirling around her; indeed, she seemed unaware she was on the move at all. As she approached, it occurred to me that she was on a collision course with the driver's side door of my truck, behind which I now sat. Rather than issuing a warning I decided to see just how close she would get before whatever internal radar she apparently relied on for survival kicked in and veered her in a new direction. Imagine, then, my surprise and amusement when her inattentiveness carried her directly into my waiting, unyielding door. She managed to pry her eyes up from her texting long enough to look around indignantly, curious who had had the nerve to bump into her and interrupt her important work. When she spied me, completely stationary and grinning, her face reddened with an embarassed little smile of her own. Undaunted, however, she immediately returned her full attention to her handheld device and, spinning ninety degrees, continued on her way. I watched her go, equal parts amazed and saddened, hoping the only vehicles she banged into would be parked.
Generally speaking, I wholeheartedly maintain my stance on the youth of today, well documented in this space and elsewhere (including in person, for anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby when I get on a roll). The bar has been so substantially lowered, the level of parental and societal protection taken to such ridiculous extremes, that current and future generations of children lack certain basic, mandatory survival skills. It makes me wonder how much longer it will be until we are no longer required to blink or breathe for ourselves (lest we damage our fragile eyelids and lungs; won't SOMEbody please think of the children?). That's pretty extreme, I know, and unlikely. But when compared to the level of achievement and self-sufficience of even one or two generations ago, an awful lot of kids today and tomorrow seem to be in real trouble.
It was Friday night a couple of weeks ago, coming around to about eight o'clock, and we were settling in for a cozy evening of dinner and a movie when a message started circulating around Facebook concerning some missing kids. There were three of them, aged nine, seven and four, left in the care of an aunt, and had been missing for seveal hours already. Imagine, if you can, the feelings you'd experience upon hearing this news or, worse yet, finding the little ones left in your charge had simply vanished. They weren't ours, nor did we even know them or their families, but we quickly decided to put our plans on hold and head into the fray to join the search. It doesn't have to be one of your own to realize how urgent a situation like this can be - this late in the summer, it gets mighty chilly back in those woods, and I couldn't imagine how these children would have been properly dressed for an unplanned wilderness adventure.
So, on the spur of the moment, with only the more or less unreliable word of Facebook to go on (the same website that has recently informed me of Morgan Freeman's fictional death several times), we struck off into the Great Canadian Wilds in search of these poor kids. We had quite an adventure that night, over five hundred volunteers turned out to search, and the clock had rolled over from PM to AM by the time we arrived back home, but ultimately the three were located safe and sound. They were discovered less than five hundred yards from their house, and later reported having heard the sounds of traffic and searchers' voices, but out there in those cold, dark and wet woods, probably out there for the first time and almost certainly the first time alone, they found themselves unable to accurately gauge which direction the sounds were coming from.
The fact they were found was excellent news in and of itself, but what impressed me most was how they had passed the time before being found: once they realized they were lost and darkness was setting in, the oldest child - the nine-year-old - had apparently gone to great lengths to take care of the smaller ones. He had constructed a sort of makeshift fort around them out of logs and branches, and made a blanket for them using ferns and boughs. I have no doubt these things made their time in the woods more comfortable, but more than that I think it gave him something to do and gave the littler ones a sense of security that kept panic (and maybe the urge to run aimlessly and randomly) at bay until help arrived.
I was mightily impressed at the resourcefulness of this child, and whether or not he was aware of it, what a key part he played in the intact recovery of his siblings and himself. I think about him and how this all played out, and it makes me think there may yet be some hope for the next generation after all. Well, at least some of it, anyway; for every junior woodsman, there's a girl twice his age unable to avoid a collision with a parked car.
Copyright © 2012 SWE Publishing Ltd.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Sometime in the early 1990s the players' salaries were made public. Almost literally overnight several players became disgruntled upon discovering they made less than they had thought, in comparison to others around the league. Some players, previously content with mid- to high-six figure salaries, demanded and received new seven-figure annual totals. Some greedy and/or unscrupulous team owners, in an effort to bolster their teams, were now free to engage in bidding wars for the services of key players. Salaries continued to soar and, as a result, so too did ticket and merchandise prices. Soon the average fan was priced out of the market, and most prime season tickets now went to large corporations and celebrities (in some of the more fashionable NHL cities). The spiral continued out of control, as spirals tend to do; before long mere millions in salaries weren't good enough for the players. No, now they wanted a percentage of the overall profits earned by the league, to the tune of 53%, 57%, and up and up.
Now, there is a line of reasoning which supports the players and their demands, and it is not an unreasonable line. These are superstar professionals, the best of the best, and as such feel they are the sole reason the NHL is able to exist as it does today. Try as I might, I annot disagree with or dispute this. The Sidney Crosbys and Evgeny Malkins of the league are true stars, and without them the league would have a hard time marketing to anyone outside the hardest of the hardcore fan base, particularly in non-traditional American markets such as Nashville, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. It seems that much of the public sentiment is ralied in firm support behind the players, in fact - sympathetic to their cause, after they 'gave up so much' during the last round of collective bargaining negotiations. I'm not going to delve into the minutiae of the current, or any part, collective bargaining agreements, nor will I expand on the media soundbites or hot points of the players vs owners debate. For those interested in the process and the history, the story is well documented elsewhere, and for me to rehash the entire thing here would be counter-productive. Instead, I will offer what is (to me, at least) a common sense rebuttal to the Players' Association and their revenue sharing stance.
First, I am aware that other major North American sports leagues have revenue sharing packages in place. I am also aware that major league baseball players, NFL football players and even some NBA basketball players make salaries that dwarf even the upper end of the NHL's pay scale. I also know that these other sports are far bigger in America in terms of TV and merchandising revenues, to the point where it's an apples and oranges discussion, and misleading to even compare them. And what makes the players think they deserve more than half of the profits the league makes? Aside from professional sports, can you think of any industry where the owners of a company put up all the money to start up, pay all the day to day expenses, including travel, meals, hotels, mileage and all expenses related to the job, and on top of this pay their employees astronomical salaries based on how much the company makes, and far higher than the salaries they themselves draw? Yes, some industries give performance bonuses, but they’re based on performance, not because the employees held a gun to their bosses’ heads and demanded a higher cut of the profits than the bosses themselves get. It’s insane by any standard other than pro hockey.
And don’t even get me started on the flimsy logic which states players need millions a year because they have short careers, and need to take care of their future. Bullshit. The average NHL regular retires somewhere around age 30 (guys like Chris Chelios wreck the curve). They need 400 games, or less than five full seasons, to collect a full pension. Extreme case scenario, a guy like Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby steps into the league at 18, signs a rookie deal laden with incentives, then when that expires signs a short-term but monster deal in the eight figure range. This guy could be retired, free and clear, with a six-figure pension for life, at 23 years of age. In Canada, you can’t even rent a car until you’re 25! Other extreme case scenario: a mediocre player breaks into the league at 18, makes the league average for five years and gets out. He’s 23, health intact, and making as much or more from his “paltry” pension than you, me, and most people we know, earn in a year by actually working. No, he can’t have a million dollar mansion in North Vancouver and a Mazzeratti, but he’s got a comfortable living coming to him every year for the rest of his natural life. Yes, there are guys like Pat Peake or Bret Lindros, who get injured before they’ve made any serious money, and might struggle in the work force outside of hockey. Ok, fair enough. But is that really any reason to pay them (and everyone else) mid to high seven figures a year, on the off chance they might get hurt (or, as in the Lindros case, just plain not be very good) and not stick around long enough to make a hundred million? My heart doesn’t exactly go out to these guys.
In the 1990s, the average NHL salary was a couple hundred thousand a year. Are you telling me that if someone came to you and said “Ok, I’ll pay you two hundred grand a year from age 19 to age 30, but then I’m cutting you loose, to fend for yourself” you’d say “no way, man! I can’t live the rest of my life on a measley $1.8 million!”. Hey, here’s a thought: if you’re stuck with less than two mil in the bank at age 30 (hell, let’s say one million, after tax and expenses, house, car, whatever): you’re THIRTY! Go get a job! How many of your buddies are retired at 30? What makes you think after roughly twelve years in the work force you’ve earned the right to be set up for life? You’ve got three decades-plus of solid employable years left in you. Quit griping and go to work. Let’s say you’re a thirty-year-old knucklehead who doesn’t know a single thing in life so far, aside from hockey. Well, high school is a requirement now, especially if you come through the Major Junior or Hockey USA ranks. You’ve at least got that much under your belt. So you’re qualified for university or college, with ample funds in the bank to afford tuition. Set yourself back a few years, go get educated, debt free, and hit the ground running at 35ish. For that matter, go to school in the off season, so you’re all set by the time retirement from hockey rolls around. Don’t tell me there isn’t time in the off season to get an education. Randy Gregg became a doctor (on cup-winning teams – the shortest off season of all), and Joe Juneau picked up an aeronautical engineering degree from RPI, so yes, there is time.
Or... and here’s a crazy thought... stay retired. In the “only a million in the bank” scenario: do you know how long you could comfortably live on a million dollars? Do you know how long it would take the average person in almost any other walk of life to net a million? Even at a hundred grand a year in, say, banking or computer programming or whatever, you’re only bringing home 30 or 40 grand clear, absolute best case, assuming you spend exactly nothing a year on extras over and above the bare essentials. Pro sports is like winning the lottery, guys, plain and simple. Nowadays, the couple hundred grand a year example is way out of whack, with an average NHL salary of about $3.3 million. And these whiny players not only feel they can’t live on that, but feel it’s unfair that their employers want to make some money out of these little hockey teams they’ve invested untold tens (or hundreds) of millions into? Give me a break. It doesn’t matter what the boss makes, it’s his company and he’s actually in it to make money. That’s the whole idea. Crazy, I know, but it’s true. It’s none of the players’ business how much a team makes. Call me unfair, but I cannot get my head around the concept of the players expecting 53% (to start) of all revenues the league makes. It’s just an unacceptable position.
The bottom line, for me and most hockey fans I know, is a burning desire to see NHL hockey played this year, ideally starting in a couple of weeks. The average fan can't get his head around eight figure salaries and HRR (hockey-related revenues) or any of the otherworldly issues swirling at play here. It's pretty difficult to have much sympathy for either side in a dispute where the stakes are beyond comprehension. But regardless of who understands what, or sympathizes with whom, every one of these lockouts/strikes/work stoppages chip that much more away from the fringe fan base. Lose too much of that, and pretty soon the seven figure salaries include the two after the decimal point.