The Christmas Coffee Pot

A few days before Christmas, December 21st to be exact, a disagreement broke out in the Loblaw kitchen. I went for a cup of coffee from our coffee maker and found that there wasn’t a drop to be had. I knew that a pot had just been brewed. In fact, I’d seen my lovely wife sitting and drinking a cup moments before this.

With as much tact as I could muster, I asked about the missing coffee. Had she taken a second cup before I had poured my first, I asked gently.

Why no, she replied.

It would be out of character for her to slam back two cups of joe back to back, true, but it was also out of character for her to make exactly one cup of coffee. She’s not usually one for teasing. We locked eyes and scrutinized each other for signs of an explanation but found only confusion. If we weren’t the problem, what was?

I flipped up the lid of the coffee maker and our answer appeared. The rest of the water destined for the pot has decided to stay put, right there in the reservoir. Apparently our coffee maker had grown tired of continual percolations. Pressing the brew button a second time brought the coffee maker back to life, and a few minutes later I was drinking an adequate cup. “We can hold out until Boxing Day to get a new one” I proposed, and my wife agreed. It was the frugal thing to do.

The next morning I woke and stumbled downstairs, as bleary-eyed as I normally am. I fill my mug with a brand new cup of coffee. It was lukewarm and overly strong.

“Nine times” she said as she stood by the kitchen sink.

“Huh?” I replied. I had come to this morning debate completely unprepared.

“I had to turn the coffee pot on 9 times to get 6 cups of terrible coffee.”

It seemed that our coffee maker had a terminal case of diminishing functionality, and no amount of compromise or begging was going to reverse its downward course. I sighed, and stated my intention to go find a cheap replacement.

“From Canadian Tire?” my wife asked.

I don’t know why I took it as a point of pride to refuse the suggestion, but I did. “Oh I can find a place with a better price on coffee makers than a store full of auto parts and gardening supplies” I said with an air of arrogance about me. Mark this moment in the story as the beginning of my fall.

When the day allowed for it, I left the family warm and secure at home and struck out for my holy grail: The perfect coffee maker. It had to be a coffee maker with a thermal carafe. These aren’t the most popular models, because they cost a bit more, but I was sure that there would still be an ample variety to choose from. My faith was strong, even if it was entirely misplaced.

My first destination was Masonville Shopping Centre. It’s the largest mall in town. With that many stores contained within the sprawling structure I was bound to find all the comparison shopping opportunities I wanted, right?

A thorough search of the entire shopping centre revealed scores of clothing boutiques, more makeup stores than you can shake a stick at, and exactly zero coffee pots. In the perfume aisle of what used to be a department store, I wondered if my memory was playing tricks on me. Had they secretly demolished the floor with their housewares department on it? Or was the escalator to this mythical department hidden by sorcery, like platform 9 and 3/4. Further investigation did not reveal any such escalator.

The mall had failed me, or maybe we had failed each other. It was generously offering me an unlimited supply of free makeovers and tea samples, but not one coffee maker. Wherever the regular shoppers of the mall bought their housewares, it wasn’t in this building. I left the mall.

If you overhear me tell this story in the future and I pause at this part to tell the audience that I was undaunted, please remind me gently of the truth. I was completely daunted. The throngs of frenzied holiday shoppers had sapped my will to continue. But even stronger than my sense of imminent defeat was my stubborn sense of pride. I would most likely fail in my quest to find a thermal carafe coffee maker that day, but I swore to die on that hill, with a package of basket coffee filters clutched tight in my hand.

I drove to the completely opposite side of town, hitting every stretch of terrible pre-Christmas traffic that the city could muster. I passed pairs of expensive cars locked in their post-fender bender embrace as they blocked off entire lanes. I remember shouting at people for all manner of driving crimes and poor etiquette. Luckily, my windows were up and my nattering well contained to my own car.

I arrived at the next location, the smart centre. It’s a strip mall on steroids, a string of massive box stores in the middle of a no-man’s land of a parking lot. My plan was to start on the end and go into every store that might possibly have a coffee pot.

I struck out at the Home Depot, as you would expect. The Homesense 3 stores down had complicated and almost completely ornamental manual coffee pots. I gave them a half-point for trying.

In Bed Bath and Beyond I had a glimmer of hope. Deep in the Beyond, there were a modest selection of coffee makers. Most were well out of my price range, and included features I neither understood nor wanted. I rooted around in growing desperation and  found, tucked down below a shelf of returned merchandise, a coffee maker of the very type I wanted. I hoarse cheer escaped my parched throat.

My elation was short-lived. The box appeared to have been viciously molested by an enraged shopper, torn and mangled. As I inspected the package for any sign of a price tag, the lid flopped limply open. The interior contents were jumbled together, like the coffee maker had been hastily repacked by a fugitive as the police showed up at their door. Further inspection revealed that there was no carafe at all in the box, which made the whole thing pointless. I decided against the purchase.

The search of the rest of the plaza came up empty. As I trudged back to the car, I looked across the street to the Canadian Tire store sign, and sighed in my first act of acknowledging defeat. Too tired to soldier on, I would go to the store my wife had first suggested to buy the coffee maker, even though it would silently proclaim to my wife and the whole world the three words I was loath to speak: I was wrong.

There was a peacefulness to surrender. I walked calmly into Canadian Tire and turned to their kitchenwares section. There were 4 coffee makers for sale. None had a thermal carafe. I left Canadian Tire carrying only my growing sense of despair.

In a daze I staggered down to the massive grocery store beside the Canadian Tire, a store that carries my own family name. I begged the store, from one Loblaw to another, to have a thermal coffee maker for sale. My pleading fell on deaf ears.

Standing in the frozen food section of the Loblaws I resigned myself to perpetual failure. This was my life now, roving from store to store in search of the unattainable. I considered buying a roasted chicken to eat in the car as I prepared to continue my coffee maker death march, but decided against it due to the high likelihood of getting chicken drippings all over the interior of the car.

The sun had set while I had been inside the grocery store, much like hope had settled below the horizon of my heart. I drove on. I pulled through a parking lot of a furniture store, on the off-chance that the housewares store that used to be beside it had somehow been rebuilt and reopened since last I looked. It had not.

In the growing dark I felt the crushing weight of desperation on my shoulders and I made my final act of surrender. I drove to Wal-Mart.

Every time I find myself in Wal-Mart I swear that I will never return. Shopping at Walmart is like drunken sex with an ex-lover from a particularly dysfunctional relationship. It starts off as a bad idea and ends with everyone feeling cheap and demeaned. And yet, there I was again. Shoulder to shoulder with the miserable people of Walmart, staff and shoppers alike.

I was now one of them, broken by my own shopping hubris. A woman asked for directions to the in-store McDonald’s, because this Wal-Mart was different from her regular one, and I helped her out. I was useful to my new people.

I stepped around the employee leaning on the frozen food freezer with the haunted look in his eyes and I turned down the small appliance aisle, avoiding the woman yelling into her cellphone about bread. I walked slowly down the row of coffee makers. Each step took more time, because I had no other plan past this one. What would happen if I reached the end of the row and there wasn’t a thermal carafe coffee maker to buy? I feared the answer.

I didn’t reach the end of the row. Sitting proudly in the middle of the line of coffee makers, gleaming in the flickering buzzing light that is standard Wal-Mart issue, was the Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker. I crouched down to check the shelf below the display model, or maybe I fell to my knees in grateful prayer. Looking back at it now, it’s hard to tell. I snatched the last Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker from the shelf and ran like a man possessed to the checkout. I resisted the urge to give high fives to the cashiers and my fellow shoppers as I paid for the coffee maker.

I returned home with the coffee pot held high over my head, like a great trophy of a grueling ordeal. My wife came into the kitchen as I steadied my trembling hands and placed my now-prized Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker on the counter.

“That took you a while” my wife said with a sense of understatement.

“We have a new coffee maker” I replied. “Now let’s never speak of this again.”

 

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Grab that money, Canadian Indie publishers!

homertodoThere are one million business-related details that seem designed to suck the fun out of the indie publishing process. I’d love to sit huddled in the basement thinking about monsters and ghosts, instead of puzzling out advertising plans and taxes.

 

But I would also love to get adequately paid for my work (hypothetically, it could happen some day. Don’t burst that bubble, okay? It’s Christmas time, for crimmey’s sake)

But good news, I killed one of my lingering business irritants! Selling my wares via an American website, my earnings are automatically taxed by the U.S. government. To be specific, they withhold 30% of the money in anticipation of your tax filings in the future. Now, my country (Canada) has a tax treaty with the U.S. That treaty eliminates the 30% withholding IF you can prove that you qualify.

And so I studied the exemption qualification process, furrowing my brow in a vain attempt to understand. The stumbling block that kept me from completing it was getting the right identification number. Did I need an ITIN, an ETN, a WTFISTHISBULLSH*T number? And whatever the actual needed number was, the process demanded that I send my passport, driver’s license, blood sample, hand-etched pictograph of my entire family tree (or certified true copies of each). That costs money. In fact, it was goign to cost more than the meagre amount of revenues sitting waiting for me in my smashwords sales account.

Remember when I said I studied the process? Well, I did a pretty awful job at that. Details have never been my strong suit, so it is reallly astounding I’ve ever written a logically consistent sentence, much less 4 novels in a continuing series.

Anyway.

With the help of the internet, I reread this minor detail: “Or, provide your non-U.S. tax identification number”. That sounded strange and mysterious. Why would I, as a regular Canadian, have such an odd thing? Finally, the answer came to me (okay, I googled it and found the real answer 3 pages in): that number is my Social Insurance Number or S.I.N. You know, the number I got when I was 14 but still haven’t memorized? That one.

With that one revelation, a point of minor but perpetual stress was removed. I used my SIN to complete the tax forms on Smashwords and Amazon (for ebooks and print books, respectively), and moved on with my life. It is astounding how the whole bookwriting machine can grind to a halt while the accounting department puzzles over some financial minutia. So my lesson to you all, especially to my fellow Canucks thinking about self-publishing,  is this: sometimes, the answer is much simpler than you think it is.

 

The massively uphill climb

homer-mountain
“I made it all the way to the-aw crap! It just keeps going! I give up. You beat me, mountain!”

I marvel at the ingenuity of my internal saboteur. This week was supposed to be focused (and I use the word ‘focus’ very loosely) on the next steps to take in book promotion, with a side order of planning the next project. Oh, there was also a blog post about author branding thrown in there too.

So I hopped over to the admin page for this very blog. With a concealed snicker, my inner saboteur makes a suggestion. “Hey, why don’t we take a look at your yearly stats? I bet you’ve reached a huge audience.” And like a sucker, I take a look. I read the miniscule number of unique visitors who have shown up here over the last year and my ego deflated like a cheap balloon.

Did I have dreams (or less charitably, delusions) that there was a legion of fans following along with every post, eager for news of the next book? Of course I did. That’s how human beings get through their days. Imagination! But along comes “facts” and “reality” to rain on my parade.

I’m not going to lie to you all and say that I quickly picked myself up and kept trucking along. I was under the metaphorical blankets for a couple of days. Success seemed totally impossible. Yeah, I can keep churning out stories until the end of time, but you can’t pay your mortgage with stories.

So how did I pick myself up and go back at it? Not easily, I can tell you that much. (lack of income woes go to the next level when Christmas is looming around the corner). But here’s the recipe so far:

1: acknowledge successes, despite their size. Hoping for the easy big win made me blind to the little wins that keep happening. A win is a win.

2: Get stubborn and feisty. Yeah it’s not going gangbusters right now, but I’m going to keep at it. Wanna fight about? That’s what I thought, internal critic. Shut up and let me work.

3:Embrace the weirdness. This is the life I’m supposed to be living. Even with all the bumps, disappointments and panicked moments of being directionless, writing is what I do. And I want people to read the stuff I write, so I am going to keep putting it out there.

 

My New Glasses (a eulogy)

I’ve worn glasses since the age of 9. If I want to see and function normally, I have to wear them. And I have never, in that entire time, liked the way I looked in glasses. They have been a necessary burden. I hated going to get glasses. It was stressful, confusing, and always disappointing.

Why stressful? Because I overthink everything, so trying to accurately answer the optometrist’s questions (Which is better-1 or 2? More blurry? Sharper? I DON’T KNOW) creates a bundle of anxiety. I put off getting new glasses until I could barely see through the old ones.

But after 7 years with the same beat-up pair, I finally relented and went to the optometrist a couple of weeks ago. I went because my friend Jeff worked at the place, and he assured me that they would make it a less stressful experience.

And he was right: the exam went much more smoothly than it ever has for me. Of course, this led to the second challenge for my overthinking brain: choosing frames. I was prepared to get wound up and anxious as I flailed around trying in vain to find a good pair of frames.

I walked resignedly into the showroom, and felt an immediate swell of relief. My pal Jeff was there. I started trying on frames and asking his opinion, which he gave freely. I knew I could trust his opinion because a) he knew his stuff and b)he was an honest and kind friend. (Not that I thought about it that way at the time).

As I hummed and hawed, Jeff came back over with a set of frames. “Here try these” he said. I slipped them on and felt something I had never felt at the eyeglass shop: happiness. For the very first time in my life, I had a pair of glasses on my face that made me feel good about my appearance. And I had them because of my friend.

Jeff was always looking out for his friends, the first to help, the first to care about your challenges, the first to cheer your triumphs.

I hate having to write about Jeff in the past tense. He died suddenly last Friday, and my life is poorer for the absence of his unmistakable kindness. jeff

I gotta be me

Updates first!

Update #1: new book is now for sale! Check the Books page for all the sale sites. (or just go buy the ebook at Smashwords)

Update#2: I’ll be at Forest City Comicon this weekend, chatting with fans new and old. Drop by if you’re going.

Update #3: the exclusive short story Kickstarter reward is one final edit away from completion. That means the Kickstarter rewards will start flying through the air to the backers in the next few days.

Update #4: I’m being beseiged by a head cold at the moment, so please grade this blog post on a sympathetic curve.

 

And now to today’s topic: topics! (AKA a blog post about blog posts- how Meta)

My plan, recently, has been to reserve this blog for writing-related posts. When I’ve felt the need to expound upon any other topic, I’ve shoved that idea to the back burner (or onto the trash pile). My logic was that I did not want to confuse, bore or agitate the readers by opining on current events.

But I’ve rethought that plan. The purpose of this blog is to promote my writing, sure. I love talking about whatever I’m working on, and the strange twists and turns that happen along the way. The other stuff matters too, though. I don’t spend every waking minute pondering the mysteries of storytelling. The other things that catch my attention are an important part of who I am, and that informs my writing.

And really, the main function of this blog is communication. It’s a wierd way to communicate (mostly one-way) but it still counts. The writers who I admire, like John Scalzi or Chuck Wendig , don’t restrain their opinionated selves. For good or ill, they let loose.

So here’s the new deal: I’m going to se this space for anything I think is interesting enough to write a note about. Sometimes, it will be boring if you don’t live in the same city/province/country as I do. Sorry about that. And occasionally, I’m going to cheese some folks off. Such is life.

 

 

Feeling the Pinch

monopoly-banker-with-empty-pockets-900x900

If no one has ever mentioned it to you, let me be the first: asking for money is hard. It helps when you believe in the reason for asking (in this case, my fantastic new novel The Ember and the Knife) but still, it takes a lot of moxie to ask folks to give up their hard earned cash to support your goals.

And I can’t keep from thinking about my friends who are scraping by as it is. Life is expensive, and I certainly know that (If I was flush with cash, I wouldn’t be out here dancing for nickels). So I want to take a moment and say something to everyone who’s feeling guilty because they’re torn between supporting me and paying their own bills. To my friends about to embark on the joyous, terrifying and expensive parenthood journey. To my entrepeneur friends fighting every day to build their businesses and keep the doors open. To my fellow writers who are trying to figure out how art and money can ever co-exist. To my older friends working to live within a tight fixed income. To anyone facing hard choices:

It’s okay. I understand. More than anything else, I want you to be healthy and happy.

But for the rest of the crowd who have a few extra bucks at the end of the week for a new boardgame or a fancy hat, here’s the link to the fundraising campaign: The Ember and the Knife fundraiser. Maybe chip in a little extra in honour of the folks who can’t. We’re all in this together, after all.

 

It’s Go Time!

My Kickstarter campaign (here is the LINK) for my brand new book (The Ember and the Knife, book 4 of the Spellbound Railway Series) has…BEGUN!

What is Kickstarter, you ask? Online fundraising, simply put.

It allows creators (like me) to ask their supporters and fans (like you) to raise enough money to meet a specific goal (like buying an inventory of print copies of my fantastic new book and pay for some advertising to get new readers hooked on the series).

We have 30 days to hit the goal of raising $1000. I know that we can do it, because you are all fantastically supportive and wonderful human beings.

And for those in the crowd with empty pockets and straining budgets, I know how you feel. But never fear! You can do just as much good by spreading the word. Share on Facebook, tweet about it on Twitter, or write your own stirring blog post about the general awesomeness of crowdfunding and independent local publishing (with a link back to the Kickstarter, naturally).

Whatever you do, please know that I am grateful to have all of you cheering me on and giving me a helping hand on this strange creative journey. Thank you.

GO TEAM GO!