Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good Place For It

When I was on the board of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation I was involved in organizing the annual memorial ceremony, which was held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa at the time. I think this happened at the second ceremony, but it might have been the third.

First I have to set this up. The purpose of the ceremony is to honour and remember Canada's firefighters who have died in the line of duty. The Foundation subsidizes family members of firefighters who have died the year before so that they can come to the ceremony. Fire helmets play a role in this.

There is an altar on which there is a helmet placed for each of the firefighters who have died the year before. During the ceremony each family is given a medallion with the name of the firefighter engraved on it and they are presented with a fire helmet.

To do that there is a helmet party. The helmet party consists of firefighters most of whom the families have chosen to present them with the medallion and helmet. These firefighters march in carrying the helmets and place them on the altar and later take them and present them to the families.

One such firefighter who was retired for some years came to Ottawa from Nova Scotia specially to be in the helmet party. I had been introduced to him the day before during the ceremony rehearsal. He was very proud to be there.

On the morning of the ceremony I arrived early, around 6 a.m. for the preparation for the ceremony, which is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. There is quite a lot to do to get ready. Five hours seems like a lot of time but on the day of the ceremony that time really goes fast.

At around 10 a.m. with most of the preparation well underway, I was up on the top steps in front of the Peace Tower with the ceremony stage manager and the two bell ringers waiting for the parade to start. The parade consisted of firefighters in uniform, the bands involved, the honour guards and the helmet party. In order for the ceremony to start at 11 a.m. the parade had to start twenty minutes to half an hour before that, depending on how many firefighters had arrived for it.

I saw an Ottawa Fire Services pumper driving west on Wellington street and I pointed it out to the guys. "Look, Ottawa has sent a crew to participate." Just as it passed the eternal flame its siren went off along with its air horns. Right then the stage manager got a call and answered it with his digital radio.

Our friend in the helmet party from Nova Scotia had just had a heart attack. The other firefighters in the parade immediately went to work with their paramedic skills and the pumper arrived within less than thirty seconds with its defibrillator equipment. An ambulance arrived soon after and took him to the hospital. One of the nurses on duty there was a firefighter's wife. She told me later he got very well looked after and revived very quickly from his ordeal. He was however, very disappointed that he didn't participate in the ceremony.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Cover for The Seven Second Kiss

First off I think it's too dark. I don't know what to do to change that.

I think the thing that a cover for a book or a poster for a story should answer the question, "What is this about?" without giving it all away. If the cover or poster does its job it will give the prospective customer some clue as to whether what's between the covers would potentially interest them or not. (So maybe a cover tells people what's not in the book as well as what is. I'll have to think about that.)

I may do another more generalized piece on covers at another time. Right now I'm dealing with the cover I finally came up with for my novel, The Seven Second Kiss. So let's put it up here so you can see it and then I can discuss it.

First off, I don't know if I have enough text on the cover. I tend to learn by blundering around and making plenty of mistakes. Fortunately I have survived despite my ignorance and stupidity.

So what is this? This is the centre of a 78 rpm record with a label on it. The title on the record label is the title of the book, and a song within the book. I have not written lyrics for that song but if the book experiences any degree of success, I will do that.

On the label is one view of the New York City skyline in 1934, which is where and when the story takes place. The saxophone outline tells you music is involved and it is also the instrument that Jordan Cropper, Connie's love interest, plays.

Now that I describe all that I'm thinking the cover is actually pretty lame. I have not captured any of the crises or conflicts within the story. Perhaps I'll have to rethink this and change the cover. Having said that I think the cover does tell the potential reader some of what the book is about.

Let's take a look at some of the other ideas I had for a cover. My initial image was a small town residential street at night just after a rain and lit with a street lamp. A young woman, Connie, is walking away from one of the houses carrying a suitcase. In the darkness is a transparent image of a young black man, Jordan, playing his saxophone.

Here's a sketch for that.

I also got a friend who has a saxophone to let me take pictures of it, as I thought I could just use an image of a saxophone with the text over it. That looks OK but it really doesn't tell the story. This is one try at that one.


I think the cover I am using right now is the best of this lot, though it may not be the best possible cover. Now that I've shared some of this, I have some new ideas to think about.

I Posted All My Construction Pictures of the Canadian Firefighters Memorial Blog

In the fall of 1996 Will Brooks and I decided to make a memorial to Canadian firefighters who had been killed in the line of duty. In September 2012 that memorial was dedicated. Other people will tell you different versions of how this came about but I was involved in it at the beginning and even before that.

Without going into a narrative of how we floundered about, learning what to do and finally making it happen I just want to point out to you that I have made a blog site about the Canadian Firefighters Memorial and I'd like you to go and visit it. Here's the link to it: http://canfimem.blogspot.ca/

I should have started earlier taking pictures of the construction of the memorial. I missed three or four months. Oh, well. Water under the bridge as the cliché goes. I started taking pictures on a weekly basis in June, 2011. Earlier today, I completed posting on the blog site all the pictures I have taken of the memorial's construction.

There will be more pictures to come, as I intend to continue to photograph the site on a regular basis to record its changes in colour through the seasons as well as the growth of the plants on the site.

If you live in Ottawa I urge you to go to the site and experience it first hand. If you live somewhere else, I'll say this. Ottawa is a beautiful city. You'd probably like it here, especially in the warm months. When you come here put the Canadian Firefighters Memorial on your list of things to see here.

If you're a firefighter or a friend or relative of a firefighter, then you should definitely put the Canadian Firefighters Memorial on your agenda.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Black People are Prominent in The Seven Second Kiss

When I initially conjured images for The Seven Second Kiss one thing that came up right at the beginning was that there would be a black musician who played the saxophone, that he would be older and more sophisticated than the young white woman, and that they would have a relationship. As it turned out Jordan Cropper is not much older than Connie, nor is he very sophisticated. He does, however, play a mean saxophone.

In my initial imagining I had Connie very briefly work in a night club washing dishes before she got hired to sing in a band, which she then went touring with to Atlantic City, Miami, Chicago, and other places in the United States. In the course of that she would experience drug addiction, violent crime, egregious racism, and other sleazy and nasty things.

The story turned out quite differently as she remained in New York City throughout the story. If the book ever finds an audience, I have ideas for a sequel that will involve the elements that were eliminated or reduced from the story. As well since Connie is seventeen in 1934 her life could well extend to the nineteen-nineties over a series of stories. One thing at a time.

One of the inspirations for the depiction of black people in this story was Buck and Bubbles and their appearance in the Danny Kaye movie, A Song is Born. They were also in the Dick Powell movie, Varsity Show. Each time they played janitors who happened to be, as it turned out, very talented musicians and dancers.

Watching the way black people were depicted in movies in those times is downright embarrassing now. "Beulah, peel me a grape." Please! "Feets, don't fail me now." Come on! So, to some degree, I wanted to be a little more realistic. I would like it if some black people were to read my book and tell me whether I succeeded or not.

I couldn't ignore the fact that in the nineteen thirties black people tended to be socially disadvantaged in terms of education and employment, never mind the discrimination. But just because a person is socially disadvantaged that doesn't mean they're stupid or ignorant. I wanted that point to come across very pointedly.

This is the first story I've made available as an e-book. It isn't the first one I've written. I think I have nine others. They need work to get out there otherwise I'd publish all of them today. As has been the case with the other stories I've written the characters I "create" take on a life all their own.

There's Jim. He's named Jim Baskett after the actor who played Uncle Remus in Disney's Song of the South. I love that movie and the book that came out based on it. Jim started out with Uncle Remus in mind but he changed very quickly. For one thing he has a fairly tragic back story.

After Jim, there's Mae Madison, and her best forever friend, Emma. Mae is fiery and feisty. She fearlessly speaks her mind and takes no prisoners. Emma is a softie by comparison but she isn't prone to backing down from anything either. Of the two Mae is the realist and Emma is the dreamer.

There are many black people involved in the story. One other minor character I'd like to mention here is Alva, the stage manager of the Apollo. She is a woman who probably didn't exist in the nineteen-thirties. I based her on the kind of black women in the nineteen-sixties and seventies who very much personified, "black is beautiful." Alva completely and unapologetically embraced who and what she was.

That's a bit of what went into my depiction of black people in The Seven Second Kiss. Was I accurate? Was I fair? I don't really know. I did the best I could do for the story I wanted to tell. I doubt very much that I was accurate. I hope I was fair.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Summer Camp Baseball

First off I do not have fond memories of summer camp. My parents sent me to three different summer camps over five years and I'm very happy that I never have to go there ever again. (Unless there's reincarnation.)

Next up I am no good at all at sports, except for volley ball at which I excel, but this is about baseball, not volley ball. I am a klutz with a hockey stick and since I've been off the ice for decades I probably can't skate any more. I was not good at it when I was a kid. I cannot catch a spherical ball. I'm not bad with a football but I do not have the stamina, or the willingness to have bones broken, required for that sport. As far as hitting a ball with a bat goes forget it. I can't do that either.

I was at summer camp. This was my third year of being at summer camp and my first at this particular one. Let me give it a fictional name for you: Camp Moosewappi. If you find 'Mooswappi' on Google I will be somewhat surprised but not floored. I just made that up as I wrote it.

There we are day one or day two at Camp Moosewappi and out camp councilor, let's call him Bob, gets all enthusiastic about us playing baseball. When I say us, I mean the group of kids that were put together to be led by this councilor. There must have been a camping type name for it but I have mercifully forgotten what it was. For lack of a better term for it I'll call it a cabin. You OK, with that? You better be.

I went first with my baseball flaws and deficits. Turns out I had been put in with a cabin full of baseball losers. I was not the only one who had extreme difficulty with the skills required by that particular sport. One by one, each of the guys in my cabin admitted their lack of interest in baseball due to their incompetence with that sport.

At the end of this defeatist outpouring Bob looked thoroughly dejected and defeated. I mean his shoulders were hunched over. He gazed down at the floor. He emitted a series of deep sighs.

Nevertheless, baseball was on the agenda. There was a camp tournament among the cabins. Time had been scheduled for it. Like it or not we could not opt out of playing baseball. We had sympathy for Bob. He had obviously been good at sports and perhaps had even experienced winning from time to time.

Bob took us out to one of the baseball diamonds and began by assessing our skills, or rather, I should say, our lack of skills. We played what I think is called round robin baseball. People take positions on the playing field while someone goes to bat and when they strike out or are tagged out they go on the playing field while everyone moves to the next position.

Doing that, everyone gets to do everything. They get to bat, catch, pitch, field, be at a base, and so on. We did that for a while and I could see Bob's exasperation at how really bad we were. Like I said, baseball was on the agenda, and he was getting paid to be the councilor so he did what he could.

Having assessed our lack of skills he then set into assigning us positions on the team. Where in the typical assignment of positions a coach looks for the most skilled player for any given place on the team. In Bob's case he had to look for the people who was the least unskilled.

I should interject here. You are probably comparing us to 'The Bad News Bears' or something like that. Look. The players on 'The Bad News Bears' actually wanted to play baseball. I mean, they had skills.

The thing Bob and the rest of us did was acknowledge and accept ourselves for the way we were with all our flaws and shortcomings. Once Bob had assigned places on the team we started to practice. We learned to take into account the difficulties of the other players on the team and work around them. For example, my teammates knew that if they did anything other than a very soft lob of the ball to me there was no way in the world I would ever catch it.

We spent that first day working all that out and practicing. The next day we had our first game playing against the guys from one of the other cabins. I really can't remember how the game played out. As I remember it the other team showed up all cocky and confident, while we showed up all fearful and defeatist.

What none of us knew going into that game was that Bob had made us into a team. Individually we sucked. Together, allowing for each of our flaws and weaknesses and playing up what little strengths we each had we managed somehow to defeat the other team.

Everyone in the camp seemed to be surprised with this unexpected anomaly, none more than us. We could not believe it. Bob was over the moon. Having won a game we became a little less defeatist. We practiced some more when we had free time, which was scheduled daily. We each became somewhat more competent but nothing approaching any kind of superstar competence.

Bob did his job. He reordered out batting lineup. He rearranged our defensive positions and he made us practice the skills we were weak with, which was pretty much all of them.

As this story gets longer I'm about to bring it to a close. I think I've made my point, anyway. Over the two weeks of that camping session our cabin won the baseball championship, defeating all the other much more skilled and competent players in the camp.

Somewhere, if it still exists, there is a carved and painted wooden Indian chief supported by a pyramid of half inch thick wooden disks, one for each camp year. On one of those disks the names of the guys in my cabin have been engraved with a wood burning tool for having won the baseball championship that summer so long ago.