Timmins, the Interview

February 1, 2011

Great interview about my upcoming novel “God Wars: Living with Angels” with the Timmins Press from my old home town. It was amazingly pleasant and yet poignant too, thinking of where I’d come from, Timmins, this small northern Canadian gold mining and hockey town hundreds of miles north of Toronto. I’d once heard the town described as eight months of the year snow flies, four months of the year black flies… and mosquitoes, and deer flies and moose flies and sand flies and… I’m not saying the flies in Timmins are big, but they all have their own landing gear. In fact they had to extend the runway at the Timmins airport because the flies kept overshooting it and slamming into houses. Would I lie? An amazing place, actually, a place of survivors, for sure. I tell stories about Timmins and people stare at me like I’m making it all up – okay, so I’m a novelist so of course they suspect I’m lying. But there are so many true stories that even a professional liar like me doesn’t have to even bother trying to make up new ones. How about when that moose took a swan dive off a fire escape onto my football coach’s newly restored 65 mustang? Actually happened. Or that Shania Twain comes from Timmins and James Cameron just a few miles down the road? True. That I once came out of a cage (what they call elevators that go down into the gold mines) and walked by a dead body on a stretcher that was waiting to go back up to surface, the guy having died in exactly the place in the mine that I was going to work that day. True. That we had a gay man living in Timmins when I was a teenager who was cruelly called Steve the Fag, and who tried to commit suicide once by hanging himself from a tree but instead broke his legs because the rope was too long. Yes. And that same man, Steve, used to fly out of Timmins frequently to go down to Toronto for gay dates and that one day he was late for his plane so he called in a bomb threat to the airport to delay his flight and he ended up in prison. True. And I’m assuming he got the gay date he was looking for. So what business do I have making up stories about a place like Timmins? None at all. They’re all there already. I love Timmins, even if I live thousands of miles away in sunny, beautiful Southern California. Ain’t no flies down here, by the way.



My Hometown Newspaper

February 1, 2011

I’m psyched (no, this isn’t about Ford, the American Yugo). I’m about to be interviewed by phone about my upcoming novel, “God Wars: Living with Angels” by my hometown newspaper, the Timmins Daily News or, as we always knew it when I was growing up: The Timmins Press. I remember at one point when I was a young man I was offered a job at that paper, don’t really remember the details, I think I’d written a letter to the editor about Nova Scotia beaches and it caught someone’s eye. I didn’t take the job but I remember feeling honored and excited by the offer. There are a lot of stories told about the Timmins Press, far more than a small town newspaper would usually engender, but the biggest one was that media baron Lord Thompson of Fleet, one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men in his day, started his empire in Timmins by buying the Timmins Press. Story goes that he made an offer on the paper, which was refused. The paper then promptly burned to the ground, leaving only the printing press, which Lord Thompson (then not a Lord, of course) promptly bought at a huge discount and started a media and oil empire that stretched around the world and landed him a Lordship in England where he lived until his death. Don’t know if any of the stories are true, but I’m still psyched to be interviewed by my hometown paper. Funny, isn’t it, I was just interviewed by a Malibu paper, and yet it’s my tiny hometown paper that gets me all excited. Huh. Who knew?


I can’t a-Ford This…

February 1, 2011

I know, I know, it’s a little thing, but still… I received an email from someone named Andrea from Ford Customer Satisfaction Center (or some such made up name) expressing all sorts of regret for the problems I’m having with my Ford Escape (don’t buy Ford!!!). It sounded so authentic that I almost fell for it. In fact I did fall for it at least long enough to send them a long, very civil reply describing the problem. I expected a call from them in short order, especially since Andrea seemed so concerned about the problem and wanted to address it immediately. What I got was a return email generically thanking me for contacting Ford (as if this were the first time I’d ever done so) and that it would take two to three days to get back to me. Okay, this is me staring, eyes half-lidded, not quite believing it. Where the hell is Andrea? She seemed so caring, so concerned, so anxious to take care of the problems with my Ford Escape right away – immediately!!! And she didn’t even give me a real email address to respond to? I respond and get a canned response telling me it’ll take three days to get back to me? This is like Huntington Beach Ford after costing me a day or work and forcing me to walk three miles to get my car after being unable to diagnose it, offering to take the cost of an oil change off my bill. Yup, same half-lidded look. Just sayin’… and yes, I know, my wife is probably right, I am whiny. AND my FORD car sucks!!!


customer service

February 1, 2011

There’s an old joke about civil servants being neither civil nor servants. That seems to cover a lot of customer service these days – it doesn’t matter that you’re a customer and there is no service. That’s a bit unfair, though, because there are some people who are an absolute delight to deal with, so into helping you, doing their job and representing their employers in the best possible way. To those people, I say thank you. In fact, to be honest, all customer service people have my sympathy, because it’s a tough job. Now, if you’ve read my recent rants about Ford (“Ford: the American Yugo”), you might find my kindness toward customer service people to be odd. But my wife told me yesterday that she’d read some of my blogs and that I sounded whiny. Huh. Who knew? But in case she’s right, I’ve decided not necessarily to turn a corner (because I reserve the right to report on the ongoing problem with Ford – my car today jerked so badly when shifting that I actually looked around to see who had struck me or who I had struck, the jerk was that hard! This is the same car that the Ford dealer couldn’t diagnose after having it for six hours.), but certainly to extricate the baby from the bath water I’d previously thrown out, wipe it off and give it a little TLC. So to those people whose jobs entail dealing with hot headed jerks like me, my admiration and apologies for any time I may have gone off on you, no matter what the reason, even if it was because you weren’t doing your job. Why should something like my car not working and walking three miles to get it because your shuttle wasn’t working spoil YOUR day? Okay, I slipped there, a bit of sarcasm. Sigh… I’m just trying to get the hang of this stuff…


Repugnicans and Dumbocrats…

February 1, 2011

Don’t usually travel into political waters but what the heck. I’m Canadian, and this amazing, wonderful country of America has been so kind as to put up with me for more than 20 years now and I am extraordinarily grateful. It is that gratitude that makes me so disappointed and angry about what I see happening in this once-great country. This is what I see, and I’m open to being contradicted or shown I’m wrong (in fact I hope I’m wrong): the elimination of tariffs and signing of disastrous trade treaties (mostly by Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, especially Clinton) have created an uneven playing field on which we can’t compete because foreign countries can produce goods at far below market value because of underpaying employees, not having to pay out money for environmental protection or employee benefits, etc. Previously tariffs would have evened that playing field but no more. So of course those foreign countries eventually swamped America with their cheap goods, with Wal-Mart being a prime example, thus the “Wal-Martization” of America. American manufacturing dissipated in the heat of this unbeatable foreign competition, and at one point someone apparently decided the way to compete was to just ship all our jobs overseas to take advantage of lower wages and lack of environmental and other social policy requirements, so even more of our manufacturing went away. Then someone apparently had the bright idea of shipping in our own cheap labor in the form of illegal immigrants, but all this did was add a huge burden to the already growing government budgets, and strain our health care, justice and educational systems to the point of breaking. So here we are, the country gutted from the inside out, aided and abetted by crooked politicians (traitors, really) like Reagan, Bush and Clinton). That is what I see. And I’ve seen the degradation accelerate in the mere 20 years I’ve been here. Now comes the important question: what are we going to do about it. Hm?


Ford — the American Yugo

January 26, 2011

Yup, you read the heading right — Ford, Found On the Road Dead, Fix Or Repair Daily, the American Yugo. And not just the car, the service… unbelievable.


I have a Ford Escape. Before it hit 15,000 miles they had to rebuild the transmission. But that wasn’t even the bad part. I had to fight with the dealer and go all the way to corporate to get a rental car while they tore my brand new transmission apart. Yup, Ford has a better idea — what was that idea exactly?  Oh yeah — screw the customer.


So, sure enough, three days after they rebuild my transmission, the car starts to jerk again. Not quite as bad, so I wait, thinking either it’ll go away or it’ll finally get bad enough that they’ll be able to reproduce it when I bring it back in. So, at 17,500 miles I bring the car back in. They tell me they’re going to just download some new firmware at first to see if that helps, so I bring it in at 8, plan to pick it up at 10 and then go in to work late.

Three hours later, no word. So I call. They have not even diagnosed the problem yet. Okay, so now I’ve lost a day of work (I won’t tell you how many hundreds of dollars that is, but let’s just say… a lot). So I wait and wait and wait, and finally, 6 or 7 hours after I first dropped off the car, they call to tell me it’s ready. Well, I live about three miles from the dealership so of course I ask them to send their courtesy shuttle. An hour later… you guessed it, no shuttle. I called three times in that time to ask where the shuttle was and each time they answered in a way designed to make me understand that i was a pain in the ass and possibly an idiot.


So I walked to the dealership, three miles. Now I’m 53, but fortunately in great shape, but three miles, after losing a day of work… not a happy camper. So I arrive at the dealership in a foul mood. Oh, and as I’m maybe two blocks from the dealership, the shuttle driver calls and tells me he’s waiting for me at the gate, where the hell am I?


So I arrive and discover they’ve charged me for a complimentary oil change (I had earned precious Ford points that were supposed to get me a free oil change), and not been able to find anything wrong with the car. At that moment the service manager walks in and jovially offers me his hand. When I wouldn’t take it, he walked out, offended.


An hour later the dealership called an magnanimously offered to refund my oil change. I refused, telling them basically to stuff it, and hung up.


Now, let me explain something — I’m usually a really, really nice guy. Hell, I’m Canadian, you don’t get any more polite than Canadian (well, maybe Swedish or Danish). So don’t think this is all made up, a fiction of a sick or angry mind.


Nope, the truth is this: Ford sucks. The great American company now represents the new American ethic: mediocre at best. In fact that could be both the American and Ford motto: mediocre at best.


So, my new campaign: to tell everyone I know and tons of people I don’t know, that Ford sucks and should be avoided at all costs. My suggestion? Well, that’s a tough one, because Hyundai sucks too, and Toyota’s new motto is: “Just try to stop us,” or maybe “Hey, we just keep going,” so what’s left? Jeep, maybe? Chevy? Dunno’. It’s not like Ford’ sucky service and terrible attitude is confined to that one crappy company. It’s a pandemic of poor service and bad attitude. All I can do is react to one at a time, so whatever car I buy next, it will NOT be a Found On the Road Deadmobile.


There’s an App for That

January 25, 2011

There’s an app for that. Seems like everywhere I go that’s the proposed solution for every technical problem known to man. My phone won’t — there’s an app for that. My laptop doesn’t — there’s an app for that. I’d like to connect — there’s an app for that. My life sucks… well? Where the hell is the app for that? Well, turns out there is an app for that, as well as for other complaints like: I don’t have enough money — there’s an app for that. I’m lonely — there’s an app for that. I don’t know what to do with my life — there’s an app for that. I don’t have a job — you guessed it: there’s an app for that. The amazing thing is that it’s all the same app. Give. Or maybe I should call it iGive, just to stay “cool” and “with it.” So what is iGive? It’s the act of contributing to the world and to the people around you. Yeah, okay, but how the hell does that help me with my problem? What problem? Listen, you start using iGive and your problems are history, I give you my iGuarantee. Your life sucks. You know what? If you’re out there helping other people with their lives, several things are going to happen to you, including you’ll get perspective on your own problems; you’ll see that you’re not alone (oops, there goes the “I’m lonely” problem); you’ll always be busy and in demand (there goes the “I don’t know what to do with my life” error); and you will be putting yourself in a positive light for all to see, and they will like you, and be grateful to you, and be impressed by you, and talk about you to others (do you think that might help with the “I can’t get a job” and “I don’t have enough money” problems?). So give it a try, the iGive app, version 1.0. It even has free updates.


Blog, Blog, Blog…

January 25, 2011

In at least one way, writing is like singing: you have to have a strong voice. Not just powerful, but distinctive. When Elton John sings, everyone knows it’s him without having to raise their head to look at him. When Whitney Houston sings, we know who it is — or at least we did before she so sadly self-destructed. I have no idea who is singing when Christina aguilera or Britney spears sings, because although they can hold a note and are obviously extraordinarily successful commercially, their voices just aren’t that distinctive, at least not to me. Cher, always (unless of course it’s a really good Cher impersonator, lol).
But I’ve found something interesting in this whole blogging thing: I don’t have a voice. Not even a point of view, really, and that stuns me because I’ve always thought I had a very strong and distinctive voice when writing my fiction and even my nonfiction. I am, after all, a published author, I have a feature in post production, another in development, a novel about to be published on March 1st… so where the hell is my voice? And it’s not like I don’t have strong opinions, my friends and non-friends alike will tell you I’ll shoot my mouth off at the drop of a hat on just about any topic, and even if I’m often wrong or even stupid in my opinion, god knows at least I have one.
But what is my point of view or voice or opinion in this blog or in my twitters? Don’t know. Not a clue. Amazing and, to be honest, frightening, especially for a writer. Okay, let’s give this a try: politics. Hate the republicans because, to be honest, I think they are evil. Not just wrong, not just cynical, but outright evil. Hate the democrats, because they’re just republicans without the honesty or conviction. Just as evil, just not as overt or determined about it.
Look at GW versus Clinton, for instance. GW — openly evil, murdered half a million Iraqi citizens and thousands of American soldiers and destroyed the balance of power in the Middle East for no good reason; lied about WMDs; drove this country into a recession; tromped on civil liberties; and, to boot, he was not just evil, he was pretty much stupid too.
Ah, but what about Clinton? On the face of it an intellectual giant compared to Bush, but in reality just as big an idiot. He passed bills that are still destroying this country and I believe he had a far worse effect on the people and the economy of this country than Bush did, mostly centered around his trade deals that have helped gut this country’s manufacturing capability. Okay, maybe it’s just that it’s hard to think straight when you’re running around with your dick in your hand and your pants down by your ankles. But, to be honest, Clinton was probably the worst president this country ever had, far worse than Bush, simply because Bush was so obviously evil, so obviously incompetent, whereas Clinton bought himself a phony financial surplus to pass onto Bush when in reality that surplus was like a dab of whip cream sitting on top of a cup of cyanide, the poison being all those trade deals like NAFTA that guaranteed every country in the world would beat our pants off.
There, my opinion, succinctly stated, controversial, guaranteed to alienate both sides as all good opinions should (because both sides are usually peopled by fucking morons). Now, can I do this on a consistent basis or will I become the George Bush and Bill Clinton of bloggers. Time will tell.

electronic hippies…

January 25, 2011

I’m a writer. I write novels, non-fiction books, screenplays, blogs, articles — you name it, I write it. I once even wrote a stage play, though I’m not anxious to revisit that art form simply because it takes perhaps the greatest talent of all to write a good stage play (my dog can write a crappy stage play). So maybe once in a while I should write about writing in my blog, huh? For some reason it’s not a subject I often broach in a blog, even though I’ve written two fairly well-known screenwriting books, occasionally teach screenwriting and occasionally appear as a guest speaker or panelist at film festivals and writing conferences. There are all sorts of techniques out there and theories, most of them the same old crap dressed up in new clothes, brought out of mothballs and peddled on the literary street corner like five-dollar whores (okay, I’m sure there are those who would think that of my two books as well). Everyone wants to talk about how to say it, but so few want to talk about what to say. After all, content is the purview of the writer not the teacher, right? Well… maybe yes, maybe no. Sure, it’s the writer’s job to figure out what he or she wants to say. But what if the wrong things are being said or, just as bad, the right things aren’t being said? I think back to the sixties, though I was just a kid then, and marvel at the huge upheaval, the stunning courage and outrage that almost, but not quite… changed the world. Or, rather, it did change the world but only for a moment, only long enough for the powers-that-be to adjust, to co-opt the protestors, to restore and re-mask the truths that had been uncovered or mocked or maybe even damaged to some extent. But even if it was momentary, it was… magnificent. So where are the 60s now? We’re supposed to be in an era of unprecedented communication and access: the internet, pay TV, desktop publishing, YouTube… where are the protestors, the commie rebel rabble-rousers, the troublemakers, the revealers, the people willing to shout out that the emperor is not only naked but really, really stupid? Well? Where the hell are all of you electronic hippies?


New Mac Air

January 25, 2011

Good Monday morning to everyone! I hope your weekend was great, mine was great and interesting too. As you all know, I’m preparing for the publication of my e-novel “God Wars: Living with Angels” on March 1st, so all my days including my weekends have been taken up with that effort, sending off emails, arranging a blog tour, contacting reviewers, doing guest blogs and interviews, dealing with my web people on creating a new website and facebook site for the book, dealing with a publicist on promoting the book in addition to what I myself am doing to promote it, planning to create a book trailer (actually hopefully three separate book trailers), yadda yadda yadda. In other words, I need every second of every day to devote to this to get it all done and in place for the big day. So what did I do this weekend? I bought a new computer; a Mac Air. Now that may not sound like a big deal or much of a problem, but for those of you who have bought new computers, I’m betting you know exactly what happened: nothing went smoothly. The transition from one computer to a new computer may be second only to physically moving to a new house in terms of effort and frustration. Part of the challenge was that I not only bought a new computer, and of course needed to transfer data and programs from my old one to the the new one, including updating some of the software to run on the new OS on the new machine, but my older laptop, a Macbook, needed what I thought was a minor bit of work before I handed it over to my wife Leslie. You guessed it – the “minor bit of work” turned out to be anything but. At first it seemed great – the touchpad button was sticking very occasionally, nothing I couldn’t put up with but I didn’t want my wife to have to put up with it, so I told the apple store people about it and they revealed that there was actually a recall on the topcase of that particular model of laptop because there was very slight cracking of the topcase that was causing problems with the touchpad button, so they were going to replace the topcase and touchpad button for free, and it would completely cure the problem. In fact they’d do it as part of the data transfer, and no charge since it was a recall issue. GREAT! But… hold on… the data transfer, which I thought would take maybe a couple of hours, was going to take until the next afternoon, which meant I’d be without a laptop all weekend. Did I mention I needed every second of the day to work on preparing “God Wars: Living with Angels” for publication? Okay, so I gave in on that one, grateful that at least that the repair was going to be done for free. So, I left both my laptops at the store and felt like one of those mothers who get arrested for leaving their kids or dogs in the car on a 100 degree summer day. I needn’t have worried, though, because the kids were going to call me a few hours later – okay, it wasn’t the kids, it was the apple store people. My Ethernet port on the Macbook was not working so was it okay if they pulled the Macbook hard drive in order to do the transfer directly from the drive? Okay… So, next day, I’m waiting for my call from the apple store and nothing. So my wife and I went to the mall where the apple store is, and they told me that it was going to take longer than they figured. That “longer than they figured” turned into their bringing my Macbook out, looking brand new with the new topcase, but now the touchpad button wasn’t working at all!!! The tech looked at me with a flat affect and acknowledged that the button had been working when I brought it in and that now it wasn’t working. But he didn’t add anything to that. So I calmly stated that this was unacceptable. He nodded, but said nothing more. So then he says that it might be a logic board problem and that it would cost $300 to fix it and that the laptop would have to be sent out (I learned later that it would actually cost $500 with the cost of labor thrown in). My wife was getting very vocal by this point and I was caught in between the tech, the wonderful salesperson Megan who had sold me the Mac Air, and my lovely and increasingly loud wife. I persisted, trying to calm my wife down while dealing with the saleslady Megan and the tech. They finally agreed to put the old topcase back on to see if for some reason the new topcase might be causing the problem. So we went off for an early dinner, came back and the old topcase was back on and the button was still completely, 100% inoperative. This time, however, apparently my silent dissatisfaction and frustation and my wife’s not so silent frustration and disatisfaction had made an impression even on the impassive tech and he said that they would order a new topcase and a new logic board and that everything would be done for free – a $500 value. It would take a few days to get the board and topcase but at least it would be free and I could use a mouse in the meantime if I needed to use my Macbook. Bottom line is I’m not happy that I had to get angry and that my wife had to get loud before they offered to fix a problem they had obviously caused themselves, but I am happy that they finally did step up to the plate and I’m very happy with Megan, my sales lady, who advocated for us very nicely during the whole process, or at least most of it. And of course I’m thrilled with my new Mac Air. And I know now why they call it an “air,” because it’s so fast that it actually took off from my desk this morning and flew out of the office, chased by our dog. Would I kid you? So if you’re going to buy the fastest model of the Mac Air, have some straps ready to tie it down. All’s end that ends well, and I’m hoping that with the new logic board and topcase sometime this week, that my wonderful little Macbook will be ready for my wife to adopt it. Wish me luck!