Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm Back! (and ready to ride)

 Okay, summer is finally here in Victoria, so I figured it was time to relaunch the Great Ride & Sign Fatal Tide Event. What? You don't remember that stroke of self-marketing genius? That fad that swept the nation?

Let me refresh your memory of how it all works:

1) If you live in the Victoria area, first you head out (run, don't walk!) and buy a copy of Fatal Tide: When the Race of a Lifetime Goes Wrong. (Not Fatal Tide, the million-seller by mystery author Iris Johanssen. She doesn't need any sales help.)

2) Drop me a line at or via Twitter @LeachWriter or even via the Comment link below.

3) I will set up a day & time to RIDE MY BIKE to your place and sign your book IN PERSON. (Spandex and sweat included.) 

Wow, what a deal! Your own autographed copy of Fatal Tide! How cool is that? You could look as happy as this guy or this guy or... wait, I think that's all I sold the first time around.

Plus, my name inked in your first edition will either (according to conventional wisdom about author-signed copies) instantly double its resale value or (according to this online reseller) instantly cut it in half! Who knows?!? 

But what, I hear you asking, if you're just too damn lazy to go to a bookstore or boot up your computer to order a copy online? still don't have to miss out on this great event! Drop me a line, set up a date, and I will stick a hardcover copy down my cycling shirt and pedal to you in person and sell it to you for a flat rate of 30 bucks -- that saves you a toonie plus tax over the list price, as well as the environmental cost of any and all shipping (exc. for minor mid-ride flatulence).

Don't delay! This is a limited offer for the month of August — and maybe a little longer, depending on the weather and while supplies last!  

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hang ups

Like a stopped clock, even a botched government gets it right twice a term. While the B.C. Liberals are suffocating the province's artists with savage cutbacks (behind a veil of Olympic hoopla), I will give them credit for two decent moves: the carbon tax (in opposition to which the NDP impaled themselves last election) and the new ban on talking and texting while driving.

The latter is a bit of a half-measure—drivers are still allowed to use hands-free phones, despite the evidence that they're just as dangerous—but it's better than nothing. And it puts the force of law (which will finally, maybe, sort of be enforced come February after a month of issuing warnings) behind me whenever I dementedly scream from the sidewalk at drivers holding their mini-screens up to their eyes to "Get off yer frickin' phone!!!!" End rant.

In other news, while I've hardly been the most diligent of bloggers of late, it's partly because I've moved my online writing to a new home that will let me focus on a current project. It's got a little to do with adventure (or at least my first travel experiences abroad) and writing (or at least my trying to make sense of those memories), and a lot to do with the transformation of Israel's kibbutz movement and its communal ideas over the last 20 years. And I've thrown down a gauntlet to myself: 100 posts to mark the centenary of Degania, the original kibbutz.

Come join me at Look Back to Galilee. I'm still waiting for my first comment! (And I'll hold on to this site, too, for whenever I have more spleen to vent or non-kibbutz tales to share.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Digest This

Well, I survived a hectic last month of essay marking, administrivia, last-minute Xmas shopping and even a much-procrastinated and extended feature-article deadline. Finally, I have a wee smidge of free time to catch up on my pleasure reading of books, magazines and newspapers. (And a little blogging.)

I realize you'd have to be a complete magaholic to want a read about the business history of Reader's Digest Magazine — that hoary old standby on grandparents' bathroom magazine racks everywhere — but I found the feature in last week's Sunday New York Times about the magazine's rise and fall (and attempted rise again) fascinating reading: how the magazine became a surprising success that made more money than its founders could give away and then turned into yet another debt-burdened, bankrupt victim of short-sighted corporate profit-first ambitions.

It's hard to imagine how Reader's Digest might survive long enough to experience a renaissance in the digital age. (Hiring Derek Webster, the brilliant founder of Maisonneuve Magazine, is a good first start for the Canadian edition.) Still, I've got a soft spot for a publication that is too often a punching bag and a punch line for urban hipsters in the periodical biz: I can certainly credit early reading of the "Drama in Real Life" (recent hed and dek: "The Trapper’s Trial: This first-hand look at one survival expert’s near-death ordeal will chill you to the bone") and "Laughter is the Best Medicine" sections from my parents' subscription for my interest in misadventure stories and humour writing (of the bad pun variety) respectively.

Speaking of Digests, another one that ran afoul of the inevitable production "dead zone" between wrapping up a magazine's editorial and its printed version actually hitting newsstands was Golf Digest. The January 2010 issue includes a cover photo of Tiger Woods and President Obama and the coverline "10 Tips Obama Can Take From Tiger"—all to promote a feature article that was "put to bed" (as they say in the biz) before what Tiger has been doing in his various extramarital beds hit the tabloids in December.

Oops. I hate golf, but I'm dying to know what advice Tiger for has Obama these days!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making Art out of Tragedy (and Tragedy out of Art)

Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the brutal, senseless murder of the four members of the Clutter family in Holcolmb, Kansas. That terrible event might have been long forgotten by now, if novelist and short-story writer Truman Capote hadn't read a news story about the killings in the New York Times. The brutality and mystery of the murders piqued his literary interest—he had been searching for a true-life subject with which to test his ideas about writing a "nonfiction novel"—and he embarked on what would turn out to be five years of research, interviews and even a controversial correspondence with the two men who were eventually tried, convicted and executed for the crimes.

The result of his efforts, of course, was In Cold Blood. Even before it was serialized in The New Yorker, the project had generated enormous buzz, and in book form, it became an instant bestseller. It launched a whole sub-genre of true-crime books—few of which have even come close to the exacting literary standard that Capote set. (The opening chapter remains one of the most haunting in all of literature.)

The book
was made into a movie in 1967—one that used many of the real-life settings (and even people) to evoke a sense of authenticity and that starred Robert Blake, an actor who would gain his own infamy decades later. More recently, two immensely watchable bio pics (Capote and Infamous) offered perspectives on the making of the book and the unmaking of its author.

His long immersion in the sordid, tragic lives of his characters ultimately exacted a great emotional toll on Capote. He never wrote anything close to the quality of In Cold Blood, either in fiction or nonfiction, and descended into a boozy parody of himself on the talk show and party circuit. But 50 years after the tragedy, his book remains one of the classics of North American nonfiction writing—much admired, rarely emulated, a testament to its author's obsessive commitment to transforming the raw, bloody matter of real-life into high literature.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adventures of Greg

I got a lovely (and unexpected) note from Greg Kolodziejzyk, who recently read Fatal Tide. Greg knows more than most people about the highs and lows of outdoor adventure, endurance races and the other themes of my book. He is a multiple Ironman finisher (and was at a fatal race I described in the book) who is now on an epic journey to try to pedal-boat across the Pacific Ocean.

He recently had a mechanical breakdown off Vancouver Island while testing his ocean-going pedal-powered kayak (that's an earlier model in the photo), but I'm sure that setback won't slow him down for long. I'm still hoping to write a profile of Greg—and try to understand what motivates someone to undertake such a daunting, expensive, physically and psychologically taxing adventure as the journey he has cooked up.

Anyway, here's what Greg had to say about his reading experience:
I just finished "Fatal Tide", and I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed it. I kept thinking about my first Ironman which was the inaugural Ironman Utah where John Boland died in the swim due to the freak wind storm. It was pretty brutal. I see you did mention that event - you are VERY thorough! I especially appreciated your summary and background research into hypothermia, kayak safety, and risk with adventure sports. Very thought provoking stuff!
Thanks, Greg. And safe travels on your future journeys!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Victoria Butler Book Prize

Well, I've been a lazy, lazy blogger. But it's been that kind of a back-to-school month: little writing, less adventure. (Although I suppose having your family caught in an international media shit-storm counts as adventure...but more on that another day!)

Still, amid all the class prep and administrivia, there has been some good news about previous writing projects. The most exciting honour in a long time has been getting nominated for the Victoria Butler Book Prize. Considering the per capita density of great authors in this town, I never assumed I'd get even short-listed for Fatal Tide, especially considering that poetry, fiction and nonfiction all duke it out for a single award. (Kids lit gets its own prize.)

There's a reading and awards night next Wednesday at the Union Club. Sadly, I have to teach the next morning, otherwise I would have really whooped it up—organizers even threw in a free night's stay at the swanky Magnolia Hotel, which I likely won't be able to use.

Again, it's a big honour just to get nominated, and I look forward to congratulating literary switch-hitter Patrick Lane—poet, memoirist and now novelist—whose Red Dog, Red Dog is the heavy favourite.

I may suggest we collaborate on our next book and call it Red Tide, Red Tide.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stop Me Before I Subscribe Again!

"Hi, my name is David, and I'm a magaholic..."

Those are my first words to students in my second-year magazine writing class. It's just a cheeky way of acknowledging my passion for the subject and my hope that some of them will come to share my obsession with magazines by semester's end.

But recently, I've been wondering (and so has my Canada Post deliverywoman, I suspect) if my fondness isn’t more of a sickness. A month ago, I’d been reading Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a book about addiction, the author’s medical practice in the Downtown Eastside, and—oddly enough—his own “addiction” to buying classical CDs. (He says he is no way equating his Mozart collection, a habit that cost him eight grand one week, with mainlining heroin, but still...)

My love of magazines is the closest I’ve ever come (and hopefully ever will) to an addictive personality trait. I grew up around magazines (my parents both subscribed to several), and began getting my own from as early as I can remember: Chickadee, Owl, The Electric Company, dozens of Marvel comic books. That was followed by magazines to match every strange teenage hobby or interest I developed: Dragon (during my spotty-faced D&D years), Circus (my spotty-faced heavy-metal era), Soldier of Fortune (my, uh, weird obsession with mercenaries phase), Outside (my discovery of outdoor adventure, or at least reading about it).

If I am to admit I’ve got a problem, I’ve got to first come clean about its extent. Herewith, the magazines that enter my house every month.

Magazines I subscribe to:

  • Bicycling (see below)
  • Harper’s (my longest-running subscription at more than 20 years)
  • Maclean’s (Canada’s chattering class may hate Ken Whyte’s politics, but he’s an editorial genius and turned around this once-moribund newsweekly; plus, it runs the hilarious Scott Feschuk)
  • The Atlantic (I haven’t got my first issue but was suckered into an impulse sub by a “professional deal”)
  • Chatelaine and Today’s Parent (I get these for my wife, and flip through both)
  • Maisonneuve (the little mag that could, out of Montreal)
  • The New York Times Magazine (the main reason I get the Sunday Times, which was even better when they also published Key and Play magazines)
  • National Geographic (how else will my children inherit an attic full of moldy Nat Geos?)

Magazine’s I’m subscribed to (there’s a difference):

  • The New Yorker (world’s best birthday present—thanks to my father in law for renewing annually)
  • Sports Illustrated (from my sister in law—does that make them both enablers?)
  • The Torch (from UVic) and Queen’s Alumni Review

Magazines I get for free as a contributor:

  • explore
  • 2 Magazine
  • Financial Post Business
  • British Columbia (my wife works there)

Local magazines I pick up for free:

  • Monday (sadly, more of a conventional alt-newsweekly than a true magazine after rounds of freelance cutbacks)
  • Focus (a strong arts and politics monthly)
  • Boulevard (I don’t always grab it but know several of the columnists)
  • Wavelength (for kayakers...and I’m not really a kayaker!)

Magazines that my father in law brings for me whenever he visits:

  • Toronto Life and The Walrus (which I used to have subs for)
  • The Literary Review of Canada (a bit wonkish, but otherwise decent book coverage)

Magazines that fall out of the newspaper and that I flip through:

  • Driven, Sharp, Douglas, Western Living, Report on Business

In-flight magazines that I take home when any sane person leaves them in the seat pocket:

  • Up! and EnRoute (Canada is lucky to have not one but two in-flight mags that run more than just boring travel bumph)

I’ve likely missed some in there, and I haven’t mentioned the many magazines that I once subscribed to, or my impulse buys of individual issues at grocery stores and airports, or my large collection of obscure, international or regional magazines, or the online-only magazines I browse, or the magazines I think I should subscribe to or wish I could justify, or the books I buy that are about magazines or that anthologize magazine stories...

Of course, there is no way—even if I didn’t have a full-time job and two small kids—that I’d ever have the time to read every issue of every magazine I get. (So, yes, my habit has an environmental cost, too.)

So you tell me: fondness or sickness?