Surviving Band

Is The Simpsons the greatest cartoon of all time?

Would a 2 hour!!!!!! high school band concert be as challenging as an elementary school one?

Honestly, cuteness only goes so far when you have to sit through a 5th-grade concert. It’s an assault on the ears that even I – a person who has the musical ear of the tin man – find a bit overwhelming unless I’m properly medicated.

But I found out that a high school IS different. For one, they made the-Oldest dress up in a tuxedo shirt with a black bow tie, cummerbund, and pants. Thankfully, I didn’t have to tie the tie (since I’d more likely end up strangling the poor kid), but I had to loan him a pair of good shoes.

However, in typical teenage faction, he didn’t know if he had to wear his outfit earlier in the day for photos, and the best he could remember was, ah, I think there’s some sort of photo thing today, sometime. Maybe.

This said at 8am as we’re leaving for school.

I put it down to nerves. It was his FIRST concert as a percussionist. He’s an amazing, gifted piano player but in band, he was told that he had to learn another instrument. So, for weeks, he’s been ting-ing the triangle, drumming the drum, bonging the xylophone (which they call ‘bells’ for some reason – probably named by the same person who called illegible handwriting ‘griffonage.’)

That he had to learn a whole collection of instruments made me a little anxious to watch him. I think I was even more nervous than him. I know how hard he worked to learn the percussion instruments – figuring out when he had to bang on a block of wood, shake the tambourine or clash the cymbals. (Plus, look at even spelling those last two damn things… so hard.)

So, as the conductor/teacher raised his magic wand to begin, I felt a shiver of terror. My mouth went dry. I wanted to close my eyes. He was a superstar on the piano, but percussion was still a challenge to him.

Then the band began to play.

Dwight knows his percussion!

And he did his part, (and as far as I can tell, flawlessly). I could see the look on his face change as he got more and more confident up there – like he knew he was the s**t and was proud of it.

I let out a sigh of relief.

And, hey, turns out that high school band isn’t that bad at all.

All the various variations on the bands played two songs each and did so rather well. The junior band. The junior jazz band. The choir. A choral group. The senior band, senior jazz band, senior bandie-band with extra cheese…they all got a chance to show their stuff.

I don’t have the ear to tell you if they played perfectly, I just don’t know, but what I do know is that I could sit through a 2-hour concert again without sneaking vodka into my water bottle.

The-Oldest did just fine.

He will be just fine in high school band.

And therefore, I too will be fine.



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SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 2

The second part will deal with the exciting world of lion taming, and the business of writing. Minus the lion taming. It’s something I wanted to know more about, so I took not one, but three workshops. First up…

Elena Aitken, USA Today best-selling writer and author of over 30!!!! books

Self Publishing – Elena Aitken.

(Elena Aitken is a USA Today Bestselling Author of more than thirty romance and women’s fiction novels. Living a stone’s throw from the Rocky Mountains with her teenager twins and their two cats, Elena escapes into the mountains whenever life allows. She can often be found with her toes in the lake and a glass of wine in her hand, dreaming up her next book and working on her own happily ever after.)

There is a TON to learn about self-pubbing. Like a Fat-Albert ton. Luckily, I had the incredible and super friendly Elena Aitkens who tried to tell us a bit about the process.

She has a ton of information on her site. Please check it out. But I’ll do a quick overview.

  • Covers are important. Digital decisions are made quickly. Great covers get attention.
  • Use an editor. You’ll not spot your mistakes. It’s worth the money. (God knows this is true for me).
  • Formatting MUST be professional.
  • Set up your publishing like a business. Separate accounts. Know ISBN, taxes, royalties.
  • Connect with readers. Website vital. A newsletter allows for direct connections. FB, Twitter, etc not as reliable. Programs like can help with the newsletter.
  • Always reply to comments, feedback or shares. We all want to feel special, valued, so make sure your readers feel special and valued.
  • Picking the right keywords on your selling site (like Amazon) is vital. Look up your genre, see what’s selling the best, see what words they use.
  • Know your goals. Make a plan. Connect your brand to that plan. Stick to the plan.
  • There is a lot more on her website, so please check it out. She knows what she’s talking about!

Steena Holmes. NY Times and USA Today best-selling author

Branding: Steena Holmes : In the age of information overload, how do you stand out?

From the massively successful and brilliant, Steena Holmes, who did two workshops on branding, here and here. I learned that my brand focus has to be on my readers… not on sales. Not on marketing.

Be aware that you are branding yourself now. Are you doing it right?

Me, I’m not. Not even close. Like a drunk swinging at a bouncer who’s already taken 3 steps back.

Her brand, though, is phenomenal. Her website is perfect. It’s definitely worth checking out

What I learned:

  • Create a brand that connects with readers.
  • You brand yourself on all social media, even if you aren’t aware of it.
  • But one thing she said that really struck me, though was, “You are not your reader.”
  • That means, for example, that you might not bug another writer cuz you know how hard it is to find time to write and don’t want to bother them. But a lot of readers LOVE the personal connection they can get with a writer.
  • Your followers, your fans, your fellow writers, want to connect to you. You might think they’d hate to read about your struggles or your cats or how you did your research, but you are not your reader. Find out what they want and provide that for them.
  • Your brand is your promise. If you’re not writing political stuff, don’t blog about political stuff. If you’re writing romance books, don’t blog about gory horror novels.
  • Use newsletters to connect directly with people.
  • Newsletters are story-telling. Not just info or news. Get past your own hangups. Don’t think like a writer, think like a reader.
  • Don’t just write about writing but about life. Write about life in a way that creates or connects to your brand.
  • Brand your newsletter. Like me – Joe Cummings. Writer. Blogger. Stepdad. Historian. Geek.
  • Make links easy to access.
  • Make the signup for your newsletter as simple as possible. On your website, blog, emails.
  • Keep a regular schedule with your newsletter.
  • Keep it simple.
  • If you’re published, promote new books coming as well as your current book. If not published, promote progress and the experience.
  • Never add people to a newsletter without their permission.
  • Read other newsletters and see what works. Be genre specific.

Honestly, both these women were amazing resources. I hope they come back next year.

Links below.

Elena Aitken’s self-publishing links. Absolutely great stuff.

Steena Holmes Branding With Intent. She has a 5 step program that’s easy-peasy to follow and her website really is a must-see.

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SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 1

Source: SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 1

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SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 1

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

I’ll have to break this into 2 parts. One on writing, one on the business of writing (branding and self-publishing.)

So let’s look at the writing.

Don Maass, the master teacher of all things writerish, taught a workshop on Pacing Beyond Plot.

He’s got an amazing book out on The Emotional Craft of Fiction and, of course, Writing the Breakout Novel and I would highly recommend buying them, taking them out of the library or borrowing them from a friend (and never returning it).

Don Maass, master teacher of the writerly arts. #SiWC17

Mr. Maass wanted us to move away from pacing as simply plotting, to pacing as an emotional journey of our characters and their character arcs.

That growth, that movement, that change is compelling. Like a good car chase, it moves the plot forward and engages the reader.

I don’t know why, but that really struck me.

As he went through a ton of exercises, I thought, damn, I did that in Yager’s War. And that. And I totally nailed that one, too. But there were scenes (if I am totally honest with myself), where I realized, you know what, I didn’t nail it.

For me, it was the slower scenes. Where the character gets from point A to B. Now I could skip those but I used them to add character conflict and some interaction with the locations (since I firmly believe in making the location a character as well). But what if I kicked that up a notch and thought a LOT harder on how my character develops in that scene? Wouldn’t that make it better?

I think so.

So whenever a scene has low tension, I’mma gonna look at it again and see if I can create MORE emotional movement.

Should be fun.


Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni. – Another great teacher, workshopper, and highly entertaining writer. His workshop –  The First 3 Pages. (I didn’t get a chance to take his editing one, but if someone did, could they please send me their notes.)

From RD, I learned just why those first pages are important.

Let’s face it, agents and editors are SUPER busy people, so they are looking for a reason to put that manuscript down and catch up on an episode of Stranger Things. So it has to be tight, it has to be completely mistake-free and the best writing you can do.

Making it our best work increases the chance of someone reading it.

So he asked us, does the first sentence hook the reader? Do you establish what type of book it is quickly? (A romance, mystery, SF etc). Do you engage our senses, quickly? Do you have action in the 1st 3 pages? Movement? Dialogue? Do you have someone important come on stage? Have you taken us into your world? Have you engaged us? Hooked us?

It’s a lot to do, but basically the idea is to make it amazing.

But the biggest thing I got out of the workshop was something I have to learn in life.

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

Just because I can climb up the side of a ruined castle to reach the top, doesn’t mean I should. Just because I can start a novel with dialogue like Nelson DeVille did, doesn’t mean I should. Be aware that, as new writers, we simply have to be the best.

So if you’ve heard over and over again that you should never start a story with dialogue and you counter, hey, Ah, Bobberino, like, Stephen King did that in Firestarter, then ask yourself, first, are you Stephen King? Then ask yourself, should you have dialogue in the opening if you know a whole butt-load of agents and editors might reject it right there? Then ask yourself, if you still want to do it, why did the great writer’s do it, cuz they sure as hell had a reason why.

There are no rules in writing except the ones that work.

But you have to make it work.


Michael Slade – check out his books and tell me they don’t give you the shivers

From the great storyteller, Michael Slade, I heard three things I need to remember.

  • For authentic characters or scenes, look to your own life. Remember the smells, the sounds, the way time played out. Go deep. Especially when you need to create chilling fiction, use what scares you.
  • A hero is only as good as the villain. Make the villain epic and you’ll force your hero to be epic as well. But give that villain something human. Hitler’s dog. Lector’s culture. Joker’s humor.
  • The more we like your character, the more we’ll worry when they’re in danger.

There was so, so much more that these fine presenters taught, so if you attend the conference next year, please check them out.


Don Maass teaser video

Robert Dugoni teaser video on writing.

Robert Dugoni in Writer’s Digest.

Michael Slade website, which is scary and cool.

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Surrey International Writer’s Conference 2017

Being an unpublished writer can be frustrating. It’s one of the few jobs where you won’t get a pat on the back. There are no annual reviews. No bonuses. No Christmas Parties.

It’s tough to stay motivated. Harder to stay positive.

But going to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference gave me the chance to re-energize, to refocus, to learn to be a better writer, and even attend a staff party.

Plus, I would get a chance to pitch my novel to an agent or editor. Face-to-face. No interns in the way, no 150 emails before yours. Just you and an agent.

However, my wife, aka the-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, will attest to the fact that I wasn’t super excited about going this year. I moped and grumped and shuffled around like a 10-year-old being forced to eat vegetables while doing homework.

But once I got there, the energy, the workshops, and the enthusiasm of the people there turned me around.

I listened to experts, I pitched my heart out, I even got a case of chatty-Joe and talked to other writers.

Of the three people I pitched Yager’s War to, all three were interested and wanted to see more of it. All were so nice and very understanding at my Joe-ish way of pitching things.

One even took the time to ask me about me and hey, we all know there’s nothing I love better than talking about me. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What was your first book? What are you reading now? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Why did you move to Vancouver? Why are you crying?

Honestly, I learned so much, had a great time, and came away ready to charge the dragon again, my cape singed and tattered, my armor dented, but my sword sharp and my moral restored.

So what’s in the future?

First, I’ll pass along some super valuable information and links in my next blog. Man, I tell you, all the workshops I took were solid gold and I hope to pass along a small fraction of what I learned.

Second, I realized I’m unable to hold down two blogs, so I will merge my two lives into one and create something amazing. Like spaghetti and meatballs becoming the greatest meal of all time.

Third, I need a new website. I’ll post more on that next week, but it’s a daunting task so I’ve enlisted a very creative, very knowledgeable person to help me out. I’m super excited about this one.

Forth, I’m going to create a newsletter. It’s an odd and very difficult thing for me to do, but it should mean that I can connect to people directly. No more signing up for WordPress. No more having to log into the FB to find me, (cuz I know that’s why everyone logs in.) All my blogs will be sent directly to you with an electronic hug.

Lastly, I’ll definitely be asking for help. Help with the novel – like recipes, pictures, and thoughts. I’ll need help with making sure I put my best printed-foot forward – like everyone taking a hard look at my query or at what would make you buy a novel.  I’ll need help with step-daddying, and look forward to everyone’s helpful suggestions.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

See, this is what happens when you get inspired at SIWC#17.

You create a lot of work for yourself.


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A New Birthday Idea

Epiphany time!

I had an epiphany the other day.

Not one where I fall on my head and remember where I buried an old matchbox car in my backyard, but one that I needed to share with everyone.

It has to do with birthdays.

See, we were doing up a birthday party for The-Oldest. We had cake and a new iPhone for him, and we’d even agreed to all sit and listen to him perform his latest compositions, so I thought we were doing a celebration right.

But then when the-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World told the story of how he had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the bright, cold world, it hit me.

We have been doing birthdays completely wrong.


We don’t need to celebrate the one who was born, but the one who did the birthing!

Think about it. In the end, all I did when I was born was pop out. Knowing how I like the dark and how I love to be warm, I suspect I had to be dragged out as well. I may have even tried to climb back in. Certainly, I would have wanted to write a letter about how unfair this whole thing was, but is this really a story about me?


Birthdays need a Hollywood-style reboot

It’s about the mom who endured hours of pain. Of months of sore backs, thick ankles, cravings for raw meat and ice cream.  Of mornings spent vomiting. Of strangers wanting to touch your belly and hours lying on a bed with your feet up in stirrups while someone asks if their hands are cold.

So shouldn’t we really ignore the one born and give grateful thanks to the one who did all the heavy lifting?

So, next birthday, let’s try something new. No presents for the kids. No cake. No happy birthday songs. Let’s get them naked, hold them upside down and give them a good spanking. Then we show them a video of birth and they can hear the screaming and see, well, all the gucky stuff.

That should be enough for them.

For the moms, cake, lots of cake, some wine, maybe lots of wine, a few birthday cards, a foot massage, and lots and lots of presents.

Who’s with me?????

(From The-Youngest… “Wait, what? No presents for me? Worst idea ever. The. Worst.”)

A new trend?


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1st Anniversary Part 2 of 2

Dark Table in Vancouver

We made it to our first anniversary. The dinner we had planned was something special – Dinner in the dark at the Dark Table in Vancouver.

The plan… to eat completely in the dark. No light from a cell phone. From a watch. From my brilliant wit. Nothing. Complete and utter pit-of-doom darkness.

Being me, I began to imagine the worst. What if I knock over my water glass? What if I cut off my finger while trying to slice my steak? What if I eat the spoon by mistake? What if, when feeling around for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World to make sure she didn’t bolt, that I felt up someone’s grandmother.

So, I decided to practice. I ate a cookie without looking. Then another. And 10 more. Sure I couldn’t see where the crumbs were falling, but it was all good. I felt ready for this place. Plus, you know, I got to eat 10 cookies.

Beautiful Kitsilano

We arrived a bit early and took the most amazing walk around Kits. The weather was perfect, warm in the sunshine, chilly in the shade, the sea glistening with evening light, most of the drug addicts trucking towards their nightly abodes.

A lot of joggers jogged past us, the bastards. Quite a few kids rolled by in strollers (the mom’s jogging, damn them). People sat and watched the sun slowly set. Couples held hands. We passed a guy dressed in a Sgt Peppers uniform selling watermelon of all things.

So pretty typical Kits, really.

Then the fun began. We arrived at the Dark Table. We chose our food in the light, but the appetizer and dessert would remain a surprise. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World was excited to begin but I wondered, what if this was all some mad joke. Yeah, we fed them the hair from my chia pet, something bob ran over this morning and a part that fell off my bike.

I mean, would I know? My palette is tuned to KFC and McDs. (Hmmm, yes, that’s original spicy white meat with a dash of salt and someone’s hair), so I wasn’t sure I could taste the difference between chicken schnitzel or breaded veal

But I didn’t back out. Like the zipline, I had to go on.

Inside, it was dark. Not a big surprise. But it was, like, bottom-of-a-mineshaft dark. Like shut-your-eyes-stand-in-the-windowless-basement-at-night dark.

It’s disorienting. My senses didn’t kick into uber mode. I didn’t hear better. I didn’t smell better (despite a good cologne) and I certainly didn’t feel any better.

We were guided to our seats, the server placing our hands on the back of the chair, then on the table so we could orient ourselves. After we sat, we were guided to the knife and fork, the placemat and told to keep things next to the edges. Knife and fork to the right of the placemat, drink to the upper left.

After we ordered, we tried to talk. It was hard to hear The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World as she is soft spoken and I rely not a little bit on lip reading. So she had to shout things like, yes, my butt found the chair. No, I haven’t stuck the fork in my eye. Is that you touching my leg?

When our drinks came, I found it hard for me to find my mouth. You wouldn’t think that would be a thing, but yes, yes it was. I poured a gulp off my chin and down the front of my shirt.

It wasn’t a good start, but luckily no one could see me.

Picture of our food

Then the first dish arrived. It had something I had to spear. A stuffed cockroach or mushroom, I’m not sure. But I couldn’t spear the thing, it kept sliding away. Fearing if I stabbed too hard I would shoot it into The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s eye, I did what any man in a cave of utter darkness would do. I used my finger. I grabbed the little buttery bastard and stuffed them in my mouth.

OMG good.

The main course tasted equally good AND they had cut up the meat for me – Like what’ll happen when I’m put in a home a few years from now. The food was delicious. I figured out a potato-like thing was a potato, that I ate some cauliflower, some squash, and likely a sweet potato.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World announced she has stuck a ravioli to her face, but was otherwise having a good time. It could be that she was felt up the waiter a few times but I can’t be sure.

Either way, she had fun. I had fun. We didn’t knock anything over (or didn’t admit it if we did), and we even came close to figuring out what we had for dessert.

Our Dessert

“It tastes green,” I said. “Like lime or something cheesecakie, but with lime.”

“It’s matcha green tea cheesecake!” The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World said. “With a graham cracker crust and a light topping of yummy.”

Sounds about right.

To be honest, I ate a lot with my eyes closed. I don’t know why. I guess in some part of my lizard brain I was still in control of my light that way. I did, however, open my eyes to pay the bill, (I opened them really wide) and then, again, outside so I could, you know, find the car.

It was a cool experience.

I would recommend it to anyone.

But first, try to drink in the dark. Trust me, your lips aren’t as reliable as you think they are.

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