[TSS] Napping after ‘American Gods’

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Last month, while still in the heat of deadlines, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods over the course of ten days. Normally, for a book of this length (the version I read was 588 pages) it would have taken me about two days to finish, but since I was in the middle of deadlines, I didn’t have as much reading time as I would have liked.

Also, I found myself reading every single word, slowly, letting myself be pulled into the atmosphere of the book. Gaiman’s writing is like that, I find; where I’m usually one to gallop through a book, flipping pages, inhaling the story, with his books I tend to take my time. The whole thing becomes quite a joyous ramble.

Over those ten days of reading American Gods, I had two Saturdays during which I was able to devote a good five to six hours to the book. On Saturday mornings I take my son to drama class and then to dance class; consequently, I have time to read while I’m waiting for the classes to finish. That first Saturday, I continued with my reading of American Gods, and, as often happens when I dip into a good book for an extended period of time, when we got home, I picked up the book again and kept reading.

I’m normally a late riser, so another thing happens most Saturdays. By around three or four in the afternoon, I’m tired, and in need of a nap. On that Saturday, I read American Gods until I was in danger of dozing off, and then I did what I normally do on Saturday afternoons. I took a nap.

And I dreamt about American Gods. Not the characters, or the story, but the book itself, the atmosphere woven by the words, the greyness, that sense of something real underlying the not real underlying the real.

It was truly the most awesome thing ever. And, I thought, probably something that wouldn’t happen again.

Except that it did. The next Saturday followed the same pattern – I devoted another five or six hours to American Gods, and then I slept, and I dreamt, and it was the same dream. There I was, deep inside the landscape of American Gods.

I’ve never experienced this before, but I know one thing. At whatever future date I reread American Gods (and I expect I will), I’m going to sleep right after. Because that dream was amazing, and I’d love to have it again.

Gaiman’s words are really magical.

[TSS] Recently Read

I’ve been busy with work deadlines lately, but looking back on what I’ve been reading, it seems audiobooks have come to the rescue! With audiobooks, I’m never “too tired to read”, so it’s been a great way to keep reading despite putting in loads of work hours every day towards my deadlines.

One of my reading resolutions this year is to keep track of what I’ve been reading. In past years I haven’t been that diligent, despite various Goodreads and Pinterest lists. So I thought for today’s Sunday Salon, I’d post an update as to what I’ve recently read.

police by jo nesboPolice, by Jo Nesbo. The latest instalment (#10) in the Harry Hole series, when my copy arrived at the library, I knew I had to drop everything to read it. I took a day off working on my deadlines, and devoured this one. The gist of the plot: someone is murdering police officers at the sites of old unsolved murders in which the officers were involved in investigating, but there’s a whole lot more going on which I really can’t mention for fear of spoilers. Lots and lots of twists, right down to the very end. This was one very enjoyable, suspenseful read.
no mans nightingale by ruth rendellNo Man’s Nightingale, by Ruth Rendell. In this latest instalment of the Wexford series, former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is settling into retirement, working on his goal of reading all volumes of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. When Kingsmarkham vicar Sarah Hussein is murdered, though, Wexford is glad to have Detective Inspector Mike Burden pull him into a consulting role in the investigation. There’s a flaw in one of the premises Rendell uses (she states that two brown-eyed parents cannot have a blue-eyed child, which is not true, as two brown-eyed parents both having a recessive blue eye gene can have a blue-eyed child) so if errors like this annoy you, this might put you off a bit. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable read with a nice twist at the end.
the invisible code by christopher fowlerThe Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler. In this latest instalment of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, the elderly detective duo of Bryant and May are asked by their old adversary, Oskar Kasavian, to find out why Oskar’s beautiful young wife has been behaving in such an odd and bizarre way. As always with this series, there are many strange goings-on, including an unexplainable murder and codes and symbols, plus lots of nice twists. Lots of laugh out loud moments, too. I started this one in print format, but finished up by listening to the audio version narrated by Tim Goodman, who did a great job.
bryant and may off the rails by christopher fowlerBryant and May Off the Rails, by Christopher Fowler. It seems I’m working backwards through this series, after having read most of the earlier books back to back quite a few years ago.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit has arrested the murderous Mr. Fox, only to have him break out, killing one of their own in the process. The chase is on, and we are lead through the shadowy corners of the London Underground. As always with the quirky Bryant and May detective duo, there are some very complicated twists and skillfully-placed laughs. I did this one entirely in audio, narrated by Tim Goodman, who once again does a great job with Bryant and May.
killer by jonathan kellermanKiller, by Jonathan Kellerman. It was good to see Alex Delaware back in form in this latest instalment of the series. Things start out slower than they do in most of the other books in the series, with Alex embroiled in a probate case involving the fight between two sisters for the custody of one sister’s child. But soon enough, there’s a murder, and Alex works with his old friend Detective Milo Sturgis to unravel the clues. This one’s not as intricately plotted as some of the older books, and the unveiling of “whodunnit” is a little bit out of the blue, but still it was an enjoyable read.
blood and circuses by kerry greenwoodBlood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood. In this earlier book (#6) in Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, someone’s been sabotaging Farrell’s Circus, and Phryne leaves behind the comforts of life, her title and her money in order to go undercover to find out why. Throw in the murder of a circus performer and some nasty characters from the Melbourne underworld, and Phryne’s in for an interesting ride. As usual with the Phryne Fisher series, there are sex scenes, although perhaps a little less than in some of the later books in the series. I could have done without the sex scenes myself, but they didn’t wreck my enjoyment of the book. I listened to this one in audio, narrated by the delightful Stephanie Daniel.
bryant and may on the looseBryant and May on the Loose, by Christopher Fowler. I continued to move backwards through the series with Bryant and May on the Loose (#7 in the series) in audio, narrated excellently once again by Tim Goodman, although this one was a reread. I was enjoying the audio versions so much, I decided to get this one, and then as I started listening, I realized I’d read the book before – but long enough ago, I didn’t recall how things ended.  In this book, #7 in the series, the Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded despite their success in solving the bizarre crimes that have come their way in the past. But the discovery of a headless corpse by one of the unit’s members gives them the chance to persuade the Home Office to change its mind – as long as they can solve the case in a week. To complicate matters, there have also been a number of bizarre sightings of a half-man half-stag creature with knives for antlers who has been carrying off young women. Intricately plotted with lots of twists, this was another enjoyable listen.
the memory of blood by christopher fowlerThe Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler. I obviously have no problems reading a series out of order! This one is #9 in the series, but yes, I listened to this one after listening to Bryant and May on the Loose above. This one involves a locked room mystery: the young son of a theatre owner is, seemingly impossibly, killed in his bedroom during a cast party held in his father’s home. The only clue is a life-size puppet of Mr. Punch which the killer has left behind. Along with yet another complicated plot, there’s quite a bit of history of the origins of Punch and Judy, but the information is weaved seamlessly into the plot. Another fun and enjoyable listen!

So that’s what I’ve read so far in the past four weeks or so. I see now that I’ve been focused exclusively on mysteries, but I’m breaking the trend right now, as I’m a currently a third of the way into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

What have you been reading lately? If you’ve read any of the books on my recently read list, what did you think of them?

A (Sort of) Bookish Blast From the Past

Earlier last week, my sister Dawn posted a couple of pictures to Facebook that were definitely a bookish blast from the past.

Well, sort of. Because, unfortunately, I have no memories of giving her this book:

tennyson1

Dawn also posted a picture of the post-it note I’d stuck inside:

tennyson2

The note did jog some memories. I still don’t remember actually buying this book for my sister, who would have been in her mid-teens at the time (the "at school" bit means I was in university). But I do remember strolling through a huge book sale at one time or other during my university years – in my mind’s eye, I can see these long tables stacked with books, in a large room somewhere. I think the book sale might have been held at University College at the University of Toronto, which is my alma mater, but my memories of the event are terribly vague so I’m not very certain about that.

What makes me laugh, though, is this, from my note: "It’s kind of tattered, but it’s really old."

I obviously was worried my teenaged little sister would unwrap her gift and go, "Ugh. Why did Belle get me a used book?" So I was already protesting in advance – Yes, it’s tattered, but Dawn, that’s just because it’s really really old!

What possessed me to buy an old book of Tennyson’s poems for my sports-loving little sister who wasn’t really hooked on reading, I don’t know. But it’s sweet that she still has the book – and that she kept my little note!

These days, though, Dawn is a reader, so maybe somehow that younger me saw this happening, and knew Tennyson’s poems would be something she’d treasure one day …

Five on the Go–The Fiction Edition

For an extremely brief moment on the morning of January 1, 2014, I considered the following resolution: I will read only one book at a time.

Hahahaha!

I think it took all of two seconds for me to realize how horridly I’d fail at such a resolution. And so, thankfully, I didn’t add that to my 2014 list of intentions.

Which turns out to be a very a good thing, since I currently have five novels on the go, and I’m very happy with all my selections. I’d hate to have started out the new year with such a big resolution-fail.

The really nice thing is that a couple of the books I have on the go are outside my normal "reading zone", and I’m really enjoying them. (My reading zone typically consists of mysteries, urban fantasies, and middle grade fiction.)

Print Books and Ebooks on the Go

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I’ve been reading, and loving, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. While it might technically be called a mystery, I guess, it really isn’t, and it’s far more literary than most of the books I read. I find I prefer reading The Goldfinch in small, delicious chunks, with my notebook at hand, ready to scribble down phrases that captivate me. I don’t normally read like this, and I’m finding I really like it, for a change of pace from my normal reading method, where I devour the story and turn the pages as quickly as I can.

the signature of all things by elizabeth gilbert

The other book I’m reading that’s outside my normal reading zone is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s described as "a glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge" and seriously, I hardly ever read books that are glorious and sweeping novels of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge. Also, it’s historical fiction, and I generally tend to steer clear of historical fiction.

But I’m loving it! Gilbert’s writing is sumptuous but oh-so-readable, and she drew me in from the very first chapter. The unfortunate thing with this book is I have it on loan from the Toronto Public Library’s ebook selection, which doesn’t allow for renewals (not that I’d be able to renew this one anyway, as it’s got a holds list). I’ll probably end up buying the ebook so I can finish it.

the invisible code by christopher fowler

Moving on, back into my reading zone, I’ve been delighting myself with the latest and deliciously quirky Bryant and May book, The Invisible Code: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery, by Christopher Fowler. I’ve read several of the books in this series (not in order, though …) and each one is always such fun. The Invisible Code is no exception, and it’s fun to see Bryant and May, both "senior" detectives – especially Bryant – ambling through the world of cellphones and Facebook.

Audiobooks on the Go

I also have a couple of novels going in audio.

dry bones by peter may

I started listening to Peter May’s Dry Bones, narrated by Simon Vance. This is my introduction to Scottish forensic scientist and biologist Enzo Macleod (and it’s the first in the series – finally, I’m starting a series at the beginning!). I’m only a couple of chapters in so far, and am enjoying Vance’s narration immensely.

prisoners base by rex stout

And I’m near the end of Prisoner’s Base, a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout, narrated by Michael Pritchard. This is a reread in audio; like the Agatha Christie mysteries, I’ve listened to all the audio versions currently available (that I can find, anyway) of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Along with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, they are what I like to call my "comfort listens" – I can have them on in the background even when I’m working, because I already know the stories so well. I can tune in and tune out, filling in the blanks whenever needed!

What about you? What are you currently reading, fiction-wise? Do you stick with one book, or are you more comfortable having several on the go?

The Reading Stack #2

Here’s my reading stack #2 from the library:

reading stack no 2

All nonfiction in this stack, in keeping with my reading resolution this year to read more nonfiction. Mind you, my intention is to read more nonfiction as research for my writing, so perhaps this reading stack #2 doesn’t really qualify as helping me to fulfill this particular resolution!

1. Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art, by Helen Birch

Because another one of my resolutions is to “make good art”, as Neil Gaiman says. For me, that would be both writing and art – not that my artwork is any good, mind you. But there was a time when making visual art played a larger role in my life, and I’d like to get back into the habit this year.

Make good art.

2. Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran

My writer-self loves reading books like this. For some reason, reading about other writers’ creative processes both motivates me and inspires me to keep on writing.

3. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, edited by Alex Cornell

An assortment of creative types give their solutions to getting through those creative blocks: “a lively compilation of strategies for combating creative block offered by a who’s who of leading graphic designers, typographers, cartoonists, photographers, illustrators, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals.” Sounds good to me.

4. Writers and Their Notebooks, by Diana M. Raab

I have this thing about writers’ notebooks, mainly because I keep trying to make a habit of keeping one. I can’t tell you how many half-finished notebooks I have lying around. I was decluttering earlier this week, and found so many notebooks that are about half-full (better than half-empty, right?) I’m getting much better at it, though. Keeping a writer’s notebook is a habit kind of thing, I’ve discovered.

5. Quotology, by Willis Goth Regier

This one is all about quotes, including how they are collected and organized. Apparently there are fifty-nine types of quotations! One of my creativity resolutions this year involves quotes, so I thought this might be a helpful read.

6. Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals, by Sachiko Umoto

This one is just too cute for words. Seriously. I couldn’t resist it. See for yourself:

illustration school lets draw cute animals

7. A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: Make the Inside of Your Head Your Favorite Place to Be, by Barbara Sophia Tammes

A self-help book … although there’s also Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, right?

8. The Collage Workbook, by Randel Plowman

Back to my “make good art” resolution. I’ve always found collage challenging, probably because it’s so playful. I get way too serious about things like this sometimes.

9. Garfield’s Sunday Finest: 35 Years of My Best Sunday Funnies , by Jim Davis

garfields sunday finest

It’s Garfield! I simply couldn’t resist this one.

I’m pleased to say I’ve finished Writers and Their Notebooks. So that’s one down, and eight to go (let’s not mention my reading stack #1 …)

Any plans to read nonfiction this year? Writing this post I realized a lot of the books have something to do with the resolutions I’ve made. Are you reading any books that will help you stick with your New Year’s Resolutions?

The Reading Stack #1

Does this ever happen to you? A whole stack of holds at the library all coming in at the same time? It happens to me all the time. And every single time, I feel so excited. It’s like being handed a huge treasure trove.

Until, of course, I remember the adage, "So many books, so little time." My excitement dims a little then, I admit.

It’s a good thing one of my 2014 resolutions is to make reading a priority.

This is the first stack. I’ll leave the second stack for another post. And actually, I’m thinking I might just make these reading stacks a regular thing here. (I don’t dare say "a new feature" because that will jinx things for sure and this post would likely be the last time anyone reads a post here titled "The Reading Stack".)

reading stack no 1

1. From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler

2. Parasite, by Mira Grant

3. The Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler

4. 365 Days, by Julie Doucet

6. Advice to Writers, by Jon Winokur

7. Finding Merlin, by Adam Ardrey

8. An Autobiography, by Agatha Christie

9. Encyclopedia Paranoiaca, by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf

Do you feel excited when you walk into the library and see a whole bunch of books on hold for you? Have you read any of these books? Are any of them in your to-read list?

[The Sunday Salon] Filling the Creative Well with Nonfiction

This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.

I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.

Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.

But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.

But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.

Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.

So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.

Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

Finding Arthur by Adam Ardrey

Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey

making of middle earth by Christopher Snyder

The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder

A London Year by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters,

by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary,

by Caspar Henderson

What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?

2014: My Year of Reading

Happy New Year, everyone!

After a very hectic three months of deadlines, during which time I had absolutely no time to read, I am committed to making 2014 my year of reading.

I’m off to a good start. Ward and I spent New Year’s Eve moving furniture (I know, I know … but we did get a cute little “reading nook” as a result of our efforts); we finally finished at around 11 pm, and, exhausted, I sat myself down in my comfy reading spot in the living room, pulled out my Kobo reader and began reading Lee Child’s Never Go Back.

Never Go Back by Lee Child

Yes, that’s right. I welcomed in the new year with Jack Reacher!

I finished up Never Go Back on New Year’s Day, and was very happy to see an email notice from my library, telling me that the ebook version of Elizabeth George’s Just One Evil Act was ready for me.

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

You know how you get into a reading mood, and you put a book down and immediately want to pick another one up? That was the feeling I had, probably one of the best bookish feelings ever.

I started reading Just One Evil Act, but didn’t manage to get too far before we had to go to my sister’s. I didn’t feel too badly, since the purpose of our New Year’s Day visit to my sister’s was to watch Pacific Rim, which I found to be a little cheesy, a whole lot of fun and extremely entertaining.

When we came back, I would have gone straight back to Just One Evil Act, but I had a deadline due on January 2, so I had to finish that first. When I finished, I had another hour or two before bedtime (or so I thought), so I started reading again.

As it turns out, I stayed up until 4:00 a.m., reading. The next day my body told me, you’re really getting too old to pull stunts like this.

I’m still working my way through Just One Evil Act (so nice to be back with Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers), but when that’s finished, I’m hoping to maintain my reading streak (an absolute must, if I want to make 2014 “My Year of Reading”). And it shouldn’t be too hard, because here are my first book arrivals of the new year!

Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Yes! The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The Rosie Project has been on my to-read list for a while, and I’ve been hearing so many good things about The Goldfinch, so I splurged and bought both of these for myself (*cough* because self-care is another one of my new year intentions …).

I won’t be challenging myself to read any set number of books (reading challenges just never work that well for me), but I’d like to read a bit of something every day. And not just fiction (but that’s a whole other post!). Since it’s the new year which means I tend to feel particularly motivated and productive (really wish I could bottle all these feelings), I even created a new Pinterest board to help me keep track (let’s hope it works out better than the board I created for last year’s reading …).

What are your reading intentions for the new year?

Alex Cavanaugh on Writing, Music and Building Community

Cassa SeriesThree years ago I talked with Alex Cavanaugh about his writing process, back when his debut novel, CassaStar first came out. Time has really flown, and Alex has recently launched the third and final book in the CassaStar trilogy, Cassastorm. I am absolutely delighted to have him back again. This time around, we talked about his writing, his music, and building online community, something at which Alex is incredibly gifted.

Belle:  CassaStorm is the third book in the CassaStar trilogy, and I know when you wrote CassaStar, the first book in the trilogy, you hadn’t planned on it becoming a series. CassaFire, book two in the trilogy, takes place twenty years after the events in the first book, and with Cassastorm, we find out what happens to Byron twenty years after that. I know you didn’t intend any of this, but after reading so many part-of-a-trilogy books that end in cliffhangers (the bane of my reading life, frankly), I find it very refreshing that you haven’t kept readers hanging between the release of your books!

Can you tell us a little about your writing process with CassaStorm, and whether it’s changed at all since you first sat down to write the first book in the series? Since you didn’t know it would be a series, what were the challenges of continuing on with books two and three?

Alex:  It has changed a lot! The first book came from a thirty year old manuscript that went through a complete rewrite. It took me eighteen months, but it wasn’t that difficult.

The second came from a short story I’d written years ago. Most of that was changed when I outlined the second book, but it was still familiar territory. At least I had something to give the fans who wanted more. (And that included a female character.)

The third one was the most difficult. I had no idea what to do! The first was already an Amazon best seller with the second due to release. My publisher really wanted a trilogy. I labored over the outline for CassaStorm for months, bouncing ideas off my test readers and one of my critique partners.

Overall the big change is I’ve learned to rely on input from others. And thanks, cliffhangers drive me crazy as well. All three of my books stand on their own.

Belle: For all the writers out there, the BIG writing question here: are you a pantser or a plotter?

Alex:  Plotter! If I just started writing with no idea where I was going, my stories would wander off into the desert and never return. I need it completely mapped out for me. The bonus is that it gets me through the first draft faster and the revisions aren’t as drastic. (I actually enjoy that phase the most.)

Belle: In addition to your writing, you’re also a musician. Can you tell us more about your music, and your band?

Alex:  I’ve always played an instrument and even minored in music in college. Several years ago I picked up the guitar and eventually joined a Christian band. We do mostly covers but I can see us writing something original in the future. It has given me a new hobby – guitar collecting! My Gibson Les Paul is my pride and joy.

Belle:  You’ve developed an incredibly supportive community for writers on your blog, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On the first Wednesday of every month, members of the group post about their writing on their blogs – the doubt and the fear, the struggles and the triumphs – and visit each other to offer their support. What gave you the idea for the group? It’s grown to be a very successful group. Were you surprised at how well it’s taken off?

Alex:  I never expected it to take off like it has! It all came from a comment I made to a critique partner and fellow author – that he needed an insecure writer support group. I announced it a week later and September 2011 was our first posting. It’s now over three hundred members strong and we are putting together an IWSG website to further benefit writers. The group has been a total blessing and many writers tell me it’s their favorite post day of the month.

Belle:  You are, simply put, absolutely awesome at commenting on others’ blogs, and your posts are always filled with such interesting things, too. You constantly “pay it forward”, spotlighting other writers and bloggers in your posts. It must take an incredible amount of work on your part. Do you have any productivity tips for other bloggers? How do you get so much done in the blogging world, in addition to your writing, your work and your music?

Alex:  I have a cloning machine, and that really helps!

Seriously, I just budget my time. I can blog from work (which is awesome) and I just make it a point to visit as many of my blogger buddies as I can in a day. Most people can’t visit a hundred blogs a day like I can, but they can focus on twenty key blogs and develop a strong circle of blogger friends.

I enjoy the paying it forward part of my blog. It’s much more fun than talking about myself!

——————————————————–

Alex J Cavanaugh 1Huge thanks to Alex for doing this interview! You can find Alex online at his blog, on Twitter and on Goodreads.

And here’s the synopsis for CassaStorm, the final book in the CassaStar trilogy:

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle …

Even though it’s the final instalment in a series, as I mentioned above, you can read any of the novels in the CassaStar series as standalone novels – they’re each set 20 years apart, and there are no cliffhangers in between!

An Evening With Neil Gaiman in Toronto

[Warning: in keeping with my usual "oh, I forgot to take a picture" forgetful blogger habit, this post does not contain any really good pictures of Neil Gaiman. It does contain, however, one slightly blurry pic of the long signing line on stage after the event, courtesy of my friend Christy's iPhone, which is much better than mine (the picture I finally remembered to take on mine is far more blurry). I think if you squint really hard and magnify the picture to immense proportions, you can just make out Neil Gaiman …]

On August 6, I went with my friend Christy (the owner and Supreme Baker of Toronto’s fabulous Bix Bakery, where you can order the most delicious pizelles) to the Neil Gaiman event at The Danforth Music Hall.

When I got out of the subway station, I didn’t make the mistake of heading toward the venue. Instead I deduced, correctly, that I should be heading away from the Music Hall, all the way to the end of the very, very long line of people snaking around the block.

The Danforth Music Hall seats 1100 people, and the show had been sold out. Considering how many people there were in that line up, things moved very quickly, and soon Christy and I were seated inside the theatre, waiting for Neil to come on.

By the way, one of the best feelings ever? Sitting in a theatre that size and realizing: every single person here is also a reader. And a Neil Gaiman fan, of course! What a great feeling!

The show was hosted by television producer and writer Mark Askwith (and former manager of Toronto’s legendary Silver Snail Comics), who has been friends with Neil Gaiman for 25 years – they literally met “on the streets of Gotham City” (the movie set). Mark introduced Neil as “Toronto’s boyfriend” – back in 2009 when Neil was touring to promote the film version of Coralinehe said in an interview, “Toronto has always been my first girlfriend” – because Toronto was the first place he ever got recognized on the street.

Things started off with Neil reading a chapter from The Ocean at The End of the Lane; he’s a great reader, and it was wonderful to hear him reading in person. (He narrates a lot of his own audiobooks, too; I have a stack of them in my to-listen pile, and can hardly wait to dig into them.)

Then came the Q&A, with questions submitted by the audience, and I have to say, the questions were totally brilliant. Mark Askwith said something about not spending days preparing for his next interview with Neil – he’d just ask Neil’s fans, and he’s absolutely right.

I didn’t take notes, so I’ll just write about the questions I remember the most (and I’m paraphrasing and probably forgetting stuff and putting words in Neil’s mouth. End of disclaimer).

The first question asked Neil to choose what villain (zombie or vampire or other) he would be. Neil said, not a zombie, because zombies really aren’t things you’d really want to be. That’s just the nature of a zombie. And not a vampire, because he’d hate looking into a mirror and not being able to see what his hair was looking like. But hair … hmmm, snakes as hair wouldn’t be too bad. Plus they’d keep you company. So, Medusa.

A later question asked, “what’s the cure for loneliness?” Neil grinned, pointed to his hair, and said, snakes for hair. But, if you didn’t happen to have snakes for hair, then, “talking to other people.”

The funniest thing was that the question right after that was actually a hair question! “What are three great things about your hair, and three not-so-great things about your hair?” To answer this, Neil decided to tell us a story about something that happened to him about two years ago. It involved a celebrity, and he would name the celebrity. (This got ooohs from the audience.)

He was in a restaurant in Santa Fe with Amanda Palmer when he realized Shirley MacLaine was sitting at another table. And she was staring at him. “Shirley MacLaine’s staring at me,” he whispered to Amanda. Amanda took a look, then whispered back, “Shirley MacLaine’s staring at you!”

And then Shirley MacLaine got up and started walking toward him. Neil’s thinking, Shirley MacLaine’s walking toward me, she’s actually walking toward me.

And she came up to their table and said, “I love your hair. Is it a wig?”

He said, “No, it’s not a wig.”

She said, “Can I touch your hair?”

And he said, “Uh, yes?”

And that’s when she reached over, grabbed hold of a handful of hair and tugged on it. (Neil demonstrated for us with his own hair – the process left the tuft standing upright, all on its own accord, with no physical means of support.)

She said, “Wow, you’re right. It’s not a wig.” And then she said, “There’s no product in your hair. How does it do that?”

So, as Neil put it, one of the great things about his hair is that Shirley MacLaine touched it once. Or maybe that should be on the list of not-so-great things …

There were a lot of other great questions, including: will he write another Doctor Who episode? To which Neil replied, yes, he would, if BBC wanted him to, and if BBC could pay him with months rather than money. Because he simply has too much on his plate right now, and he’d need the gift of eleven extra weeks to be able to do it. (So I guess that’s a no, for now.)

The Q&A ended all too soon but we were lucky to get another reading, this time from Neil’s upcoming children’s book, Fortunately, the Milk. It’s a wonderful story about a dad who goes out in the morning to get some milk for his kids’ breakfast cereal, only he’s a long time coming back, because he ends up having a lot of adventures. During which, as he points out often, “Fortunately, the milk was tucked deep into my pocket …”

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”

“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”

Fortunately, the Milk will be released on September 17; I’m definitely going to get a copy of it!

That ended the talk, but not the rest of the evening. It was 8:30, but there was still the book signing. The signing! I really had no inkling of the amount of time the book signing afterward would take, but Neil definitely did, as he mentioned something during his talk about “when it’s midnight”.

They had originally announced that they would conduct the signing row by row, starting with row A, but when Neil came out he said that didn’t sound fair, so they’d be doing it as a lottery instead.

And here’s where I must confess to being a bad book fan. It’s been a couple of months since my friend Christy and I had gotten together, I’ve never been big on autographs and signed things and the thought of waiting to see when our row would be called was just too much for me. We decided to pop over to the pub next door, have a drink and a snack, and do some much needed friend-to-friend catching up.

neil-gaiman-signing-2Can you spot Neil Gaiman in this picture?

When we were finally finished with our catching up, it was already 11:00 pm. Christy looked at me and said, “Let’s pop back in and see what’s going on.” So we did, and discovered that the theatre was still nearly half-full! It was definitely going to be a long night.

The book tour has been promoted as Neil Gaiman’s “last US signing tour”, so I probably should have picked up one of the pre-signed books they were selling in the lobby. But the line-up for that had been really long, too … (See what I mean, about being a bad book fan?)

I had a wonderful time. In addition to being an amazing writer, Neil Gaiman is a wonderful speaker, quick-witted and funny. I’m so glad I got the chance to hear him speak and read from his books.

Mostly, though, I’ve come away from this event so impressed with the man. He’s an author of such stature, he doesn’t need to do a book tour, signing into the wee hours of the night. His fan base is large, stable and extremely loyal. We’re not going anywhere. Our only expectations of him? Those golden magical stories he weaves. Anything beyond that is a pure gift. And simply put, that’s what this book tour was: a gift from Neil Gaiman to us, his readers. It’s simply quite amazing.