Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Wondrous Holidays - Little House of Horrors

At first my roomy’s collection involved a lot of eBay shopping when My Little Ponies were but a toy of Christmases past. It was pretty exciting, truly. I spent loads of time with her (way more than I care to admit) learning the various collecting tidbits (discoloration, hair condition, pony cancer – yes, ponies get sick too), and I even knew enough to buy her some coveted ones for her birthday, along with the rest of our pony supportive gang.

We also hit loads of consignment and second-hand stores. Those are gold for discarded pony toys.
Coveted expensive British pony.  Roomy squee'd loads when she purchased him.
Then, things changed. Hasbro, makers of My Little Pony, took out a new line (the third by then, actually), and although at first they were greeted with skepticism, my roomy soon fell in love with them. Completely and utterly in love. That's when the collection started to get big.  Out of control, some might say. But not I.  I've seen how many ponies she could actually own.

So we went to toy stores and discount stores and even grocery stores to hunt ponies. I thought it was kind of fun, to be honest. The thrill of the hunt (and of watching your roommate squeal louder than a five-year-old on sugar).

THEN things grew. An entire online community popped out of nowhere (well, okay, from SOMEWHERE, but I certainly didn’t know they existed). They started to not only chat about collecting the ponies – they now wanted to customize them.

That’s right. They made their own.

Old disheveled ponies were renewed or customized, and new easy-to-find and generally uncoveted ponies (read: rejects!) by the pony community were changed and re-coloured into something completely different. What does that mean, you may ask (foolishly).

They pull their heads off, rip their hair out, boil them, bleach them, dye them, repaint them, re-hair them, sometimes glue them or add clay to them and then, to seal the final act, they rename them, as though doing so will somehow erase the terrible memories of what’s been done to them. It’s true plastic surgery. Gone terribly wrong.
De-haired pony ready for action.  See this pony?
I've spared you the graphic photos (you're welcome).  See this pony almost fully customized.
Now see this pony.  I have to admit she's awesome.  Totally awesome.
Still, getting to that final product ain't pretty.  It’s a house of horrors even Jason would avoid.

Sometimes, early in the morning, I head into the kitchen and there’s an army of beheaded ponies staring at me, pleading to be saved.  “Help us!” their eyes implore.  If they still have eyes, that is, and they haven’t been acetoned off. (Acetone. Did I mention the acetone? Roomy has a HUGE BOTTLE of it!)

Roomy says they feel better afterwards. I've yet to study the plastic pony psychology to support this statement.

But they ARE plastic ponies, let’s keep things in perspective, and although they may not feel much, they do look cool afterwards, like these:


Firefly fan, anyone?

Ridiculously small and detailed ship.  This isn't even the worst of it. Roomy has strong painting Kung Fu. 

Almost four years ago, after buying my new car, my roomy mentioned that there was going to be a pony fair in Memphis. Three days’ ride away. Game on! We packed the ponies and crossed the border, enjoying a lovely road trip. The community was very nice, I must admit, and I spent most of my time in the convention enjoying their company. Loads of them are artists, and very impressive artists, to boot. They have contests, art shows and prizes, some of which Roomy won (I’m very proud of my roomy).
See?  Awards!

The next year the fair was in Rhode Island. I joined again. Only one day away! We headed off and crossed the border easily again (we’re very honest. Few people question you when you have proof that you’re heading to a pony fair). Again, loads of fun.

On the way back, we were stopped at the border and told to pull over. We watched from the sidelines in bemusement as they opened luggages and bags only to find pink plastic ponies everywhere. My roomy was mumbling that she hoped they wouldn’t pop their heads off (not so good for the customized ones).

But we were soon on our way, with shocked border guards stating they had never seen so much pink. It’s true, I bet you they hadn’t, and probably haven’t since.

This year we went to Kentucky, which was also a hoot.  I truly enjoyed these fairs, and thought the folks there were nice and fun, and there were loads of shiny things to look at and then tell my friends back home about, like war stories from some distant and vastly different land.
Mmm, Kentucky...
Roomy makes pet companions, too, and clothing.  And she gives them cool accessories.  Very important in Pony land.
More award-winning ponies, celebrating the 25th anniversary.


All right, I kept it light.  I didn't show you the beheaded ponies.  You'll have to take my word for that.  But the end results are pretty amazing.  Even when (evil) kittens chew on them, she finds a way to make the design work despite chew marks, which I think is talent.

I should mention that she has customs up for sale and you can also commission a pony.  This is (almost) 2011, people.  Pony collectors don't mess around anymore.

One more installment of Wondrous Holidays is coming up.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Wondrous Holidays - Dioramas


Whenever I think I'm insane (as opposed to the times I'm sure of it), I stare into Roomy's spare room to comfort myself.  Roomy, as you most of you know, is a My Little Pony collector.  Ergo, her spare room is full of ponies.  Not a little bit of full, either.  Lots of full.

This is a My Little Pony from the 80s.  Her name is Firefly.  Ain't she cute?
Since the 80s, they've released three pony generations, with a fourth one slowly trickling into markets now, which equates to HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of ponies, a good chunk of which are represented in Roomy's Pony room.  It's fantastic.  We swapped my writing room with her pony room recently because, well, she needed more room and less light and I needed less room and more light.  And look - this is Roomy's stuff piled up after the room swap -

Scary, I know.  It's organized now, and less scary.  Sort of.
So for our first wondrous holidays showcase, the first in a, um, four part series (?), I will now show you her holiday diorama evolution over the years.   Every year, Roomy runs around town to get new lights, lamp posts, decorations, trees, and all other types of pony-sized holiday fun.  It makes her very giddy, until she realizes how many she needs to clean and style, and then her eyes grow as big as her head as she panics.  It's all a very steep emotional roller coaster.

Five years in retrospect:

Quaint gathering of a few ponies at Dream Castle in 2005.  Note decorations and tiny wreaths.
A similar gathering in 2006, with baby ponies looking up longingly at the gifts on the tree.  Note that the ponies have  outfits.
In 2007, Roomy and her two cats moved in with me and my two cats.  Space was limited.  Ponies appeared in random places.   Wearing cute outfits, of course!

In 2008, cursed with a leaky roof and Lake Bilodeau, we moved to a townhouse.  Lots of room.  And the spare room upstairs with the door became the pony room.  Note more outfits and decorations.  Roomy was enthused.

In 2009, we reached situation critical.  Majesty, head pony, seemed to have invited too many other ponies to her party, with a bunch of others looking on longingly, banished, unclothed, to undecorated shelves.  It was a sad, sad year.  Someone spiked the ponies' punch and I think there was a stampede.  Ponies were lost.  That's what overpopulation really does.  Right there.  Pony plagues are expected to hit at any time to cleanse pony population and make room for stronger ponies.
Then...  came the great pony room swap of 2010.  While at the My Little Pony fair in Kentucky (I'm a sucker for a road trip), Roomy mentioned she would not be buying any play sets because she simply didn't have room for them.   Which was very, very true.

See?  There ain't no room in that pony room.
And after the semi-disastrous installation of a door on the old downstairs writing room...
Big ol' pony mess.  But there's room for various pony lands!

As you can imagine, the 2010 display was, um, enthused?  Impressive?  Frightening?  It was an ENTIRE TOWN OF PONY!

OMG!  Ponies!!!

And more ponies over there!

And tropical southern vacationing ponies! They're everywhere!  
My friend Dylan, who also lives with a pony collector, tells me that by giving her the bigger room I've made Roomy mad with power.  I believe he's right.  He's a neurologist, too, so he knows these things. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.  Wait until I reveal other secrets of Roomy's dark pony ways.

Prepare to be shocked in our next installment of "Wondrous Holidays!"  

Friday, 17 December 2010

Flashback - Death of Computer

Note: I was going to start posting magical things this Friday, but I've been informed I shouldn't post said magical things until after tomorrow, since magical things won't be revealed until then. But I will tell you that these magical things are my Roomy's Christmas hobby this year, and it's pretty fun.  I'll post some on Tuesday.  For now, here's a What The Friday?  :P

Sometimes I cry when computers die.  This time, I just got annoyed that my "day work" computer wouldn't die quickly enough.  This e-mail was originally written on May 31, 2006.  One of the IT guys thought it was entertaining enough to keep on file, and he just re-sent it to me (thanks Hubert!).  And I thought it'd make for a quick blog post, as I'm up against many deadlines.  And this e-mail worked, as it got me a new computer, so feel free to use it in your own workplace! (Author is not responsible for negative consequences.)


The e-mail was written by my computer.  Truly.  He thought he had hands, too!

_________________________________________________________

Dear IT Team,

Although I have lived a long life where once I was useful, I now realize that my mental state is quickly declining and I am no longer the ripping cool beast I imagine I once was.  Even if your earlier care has ensured me some good final months, I fear I must now take matters into my own hands.

My mental lapses are too much to bear, and every time I collapse, I take away small, important pieces of my being (ie. Marie's current files).  And I fear, as wild fury grows in Marie's eyes and unladylike strings of profanity escape her lips, that she may in fact speed my demise in what I am certain will prove to be both an imaginative and funny way.

Before I sign off, I wanted to thank you for all your hard work in securing my life up to now, and I am certain my replacement will make me proud.

Fare thee well, may we meet again in some Microsoft-sponsored afterlife (until it crashes and our data-souls are forever lost).

Marie's Computer

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The End of Year is Nigh!

End of year is always a bit nuts.  For the past three years, I've been working on either final edits or final writing touches on an upcoming novel. This year is no different, with Destiny's War getting close to completion (after many, many wrong turns on my part).  I also have the Chasing Boudicca show on January 20, and it requires lots of preparation.  Any story where you bring in another performer, such as a musician, demands a lot more prep time since they're relying on certain cues.  In this case, there will be another storyteller, a poet AND a musician.  It's going to be awesome, but only if the right prep time goes into it.

Plus it's the holidays.  I managed to keep my party commitments to three meals spanning two days, only two of which I'm helping to cook, so that's not too bad.  BUT, then two of my BFFs are coming down from Windsor for a week after Christmas, so I'll be running around like a mad woman.  We're going to see the Diefenbunker this year.  Very much looking forward to that.

Combine all of those items with a recent promotion and a much busier work schedule, and suddenly I have almost no time to watch Doctor Who.  Almost.

At first glance, I was terrified of my upcoming schedule (okay, I still am).  But when I look at what I'm doing, and how energized I'll be by the writing, storytelling and merrymaking with friends, I know I'll get more done for being super busy.  Except the gift shopping, apparently.  Really should get going on that...

Ooh, but I did get Utnois his first gift!  It's a willow grove.  He snuggles in it. 

Warm snuggly groves for little MacBook Airs who travel in cold Canadian winters.
Just to clarify, I make most of my gifts, and those are almost all done.  I buy a few of them, which I've not yet done.  But I'm not just thinking about what my fateful laptop needs.  I'm mostly thinking about that, but not fully.  I've also spared a thought or two for what my friends and family would like.  They're just harder to shop for as they have tastes and opinions.  Go fig.

Anyway, I'm going to keep updating this blog on Tuesdays and Fridays, but I'm going to cheat for the remainder of the year.  Mwa ha.  You will become acquainted with many strange and wondrous things over the next few weeks, to add magic to your holidays, so keep an eye out!

Best of luck to all of you with your own end of year craziness!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Tick Update!

Here's my tick update, as I've been informed that many of you are curious.  I'm touched.  Surprised, and perhaps a little bit worried, but touched nevertheless.

So, following two more trips to the doctor, one lung infection, one badly infected wound, one round of an-tick-biotics and a whole tube of bactroban (to be said with a dramatic accent), Telehealth Ontario doesn't feel I'm worth a health advisory.   That's great news, but I'm a little bit insulted.  I personally think I'm perfectly worthy of a health advisory.

My maman would have been so proud!

On the upside (wait, was that a downside?), I told under my first disco ball this week, at Ruthanne's birthday party.  Awesome.  I'm adding that to my list of places I've told: bars, tea shops, cons, theatres, the National Arts Centre and under a disco ball.

Has a nice ring to it!

Happy tick enjoying Lyme-free tick afterlife.  Further proof that I can't draw.  Wings are tough.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Storytelling Fan Girl

When I was just scouting storytelling as a performance option, I attended the 2005 edition of the Ottawa Storytelling Festival.  And that's where I became a fan girl.

The specific set I'd targeted was a telling of the Lady of Shalott, the tale of the beautiful maiden who loved the not-so-pure knight Lancelot.  Hark!  Forsooth he never loved her back, never even truly noticed her.

And she, like a daft maiden, ended her life.  For a boy.  Seriously?  I mean, I hear he was shiny and all, but still!

Anyway, it was this set that turned me into a fan girl.  It was a very well done amalgamation of various Lord Tennyson poems from Idylls of the King, one of my favourite cycle of poems.  Plus, it was accompanied by a harp.  Neat, eh?  The storyteller, Ruthanne Edward, was evenly paced and wrought all of the right emotions, while looking stunning in a red medieval dress.

OMG! It's Ruthanne Edward!
After the show I merrily went book shopping at a vendor's table and, suddenly, there stood Ruthanne Edward beside me.  I remember thinking: "OMG, it's Ruthanne Edward - say something cool!" (Except it was Oh my God.  We didn't OMG back in 2005.  And I didn't say anything cool.  I tried but failed. Sigh.)

In 2008, it had been a long winter and I needed some light.  So I asked some of my favourite performers/poets if they wanted to throw a show together, just for fun.  Sean Zio, spoken word artist, Kathryn Hunt, Lady Poet, and, of course, Ruthanne Edward, all answered that call.  We had so much fun we formed the Kymeras, and I got to perform with one of my favourite storytellers on many occasions!  How awesome is that?

Okay, so I'm gushing because today Ruthanne is turning 40. She's throwing a party tonight, and invited some of her performer friends to put on a show.  She's one of those people that shows us all that each decade can be even better than the last. I've only been her friend for the past five years, and she's constantly grown and challenged herself while staying true to her core values, and it's inspiring.  I'm loving my 30s, but I now know that my 40s will be awesome as well, and I hope that when I throw my 40th birthday party, Ruthanne will be there to perform.

Because I'm sure I'll get that little rush of excitement I still get every time she stands on stage to tell a tale and I think "OMG, it's Ruthanne Edward!" 

Happy birthday, Ruthanne!

Check out some of her telling to understand why you should be her fan, too! 

Friday, 3 December 2010

Utnapishtim 3 (Trois)

A long, long time ago I bought an IBM ThinkPad on eBay and named it Utnapishtim (Utni, for short).  Utnapishtim is the guy who survived the flood in the Mesopotamian flood myth, and the gods offered him the gift of immortality.  (His wife, too.  She bakes him bread.  Sounds thrilling.)

I figured the laptop would last forever, since he'd obviously take on his namesake's mythical traits.  Surprisingly enough, it didn't work.  No bread, either.  Well, I should mention that Utni's still alive.  But his battery is dead, his bios battery is also gone, and he can't remember his own name.  Very sad and geriatric of him.  (Makes you wonder how the real Utnapishtim is doing.) 

So forth I went and purchased Utnapishtim II.  Utnu, for short.  He was a cute little iBook G4, and I loved him oh so very much.  I wore out the letters on his keyboard. Once, he got sick and I panicked.  This is the conversation I had with the tech guy (TG):

Me (calm) : "Yes, he hasn't been booting since yesterday."
TG (confused) : "He?"
Me (embarrassed) : "Um, yes.  I have a strong affinity with him."
TG (redefining reality) : "Ok.  So it, um, he doesn't boot?"
Me (worried) : "No.  He screams."
TG (polite but difficulty adapting) : "Screams?"
Me (wishing didn't feel Utnu was own person) : "Um, yes.  Well, he beeps three times.  Yes.  And he has kernel panics."
TG (back in realm of comfortable language) : "Those aren't good."
Me (too much information?) : "No, because when he panics, I panic.  It's really not a good scene."
TG (good old scout try) : "Oh.  Yes.  I can see that.  Well, ok, well, ship um, him in, and um, he'll see a, um, doctor.  Yes.  A laptop doctor."

I also sent him flowers while he was at the laptop hospital.  To Utnu, not the tech guy, though I hope he enjoyed them, too.  

Utnu at his favourite Second Cup.
When Utnu was geriatric, we went on a date to a Genius Bar at the Apple Store, and were informed that he was a good geriatric computer, but dying nonetheless.  He soon after clunkered out, after 3.5 years of fateful service.  I cried, I'll admit it.  To be fair, the unfinished Sorceress of Shadows was also trapped on him.  My brother, bless his patient technical soul, recovered all my information, but Utnu had some terrible issues and became Zombie Utnu (mostly because my brother wrote that on him).  Utnu was mentioned in the acknowledgements of Destiny's Blood.  He worked countless hours on it, too.

I needed a replacement quick - my manuscript was due soon!  So I ran out and bought a cheap netbook.  I named him Thoth.  He was cute, but he wasn't part of my Utnapishtim lineage.  I was convinced Thoth would die the day after his one-year warranty ended.  I was wrong.  He died three weeks after it ended.  Very sad.  Mostly because, once again, I was on a tight writing deadline.

But, possessing wicked laptop death powers of prediction, I had already started saving for Utnapishtim Trois (which is three in French.  Being bilingual gets me more options for cute nicknames!)  Utnapishtim Three, you see, would make Utni, which already existed.  Utnapishtim Trois, however, makes for a cute Utnois.   Not only had I started saving for him, but I'd gone to meet him a few weeks beforehand.  It's couth to meet your laptops at least once before bringing them home.

Utnois is a cute MacBook Air, 11 inches.  I always hesitate with first generation beasts, but he was so cute I simply couldn't resist.  He's extremely light, I enjoy the keyboard, he has wicked battery life and did I mention he was cute?  I signed up for the best warranty I could find, which covers replacement batteries, a necessity since it's one of those annoying integrated ones.  And, if this first generation clunkers out within four years, I get a whole new one!  Not that I want Utnois to die.  Oh no.  Not for 3.99 years, anyway!

So welcome to the family, Utnois!
That was just a photo op.  Utnois does not sleep with kittens.  Utnois is not pro-fuzz.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Holiday Special!

'Tis the season to be chilly...
Amazon.ca has run out of copies of Destiny's Blood, and shipping is now scheduled for after Christmas (gasp!).  Well, that simply won't do.  To compensate for this unfortunate turn of events, and to encourage you to give this wonderful read to your loved ones, I'm offering a super duper fantastic discount thingy.

Buy Destiny's Blood from me for a straight $20, and I'll ship it to you for free!  The book will be signed and include a bookmark (awesome, I know!)  Contact me at web@mariebilodeau.com to settle the deal.  I accept PayPal, cheques, money orders and cash payments in dark alleys.  Order soon - shipping for Christmas is guaranteed only until December 14!

Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble are still stocked for the holidays on the American side, but if you'd like your very own signed bookmark to include with the book, fire me off an e-mail and I'll merrily mail one your way.

About Destiny's Blood

"Marie Bilodeau knocks my socks off. She's got an amazing eye for detail and a sumptuous narrative voice. Destiny's Blood is a winner -- another home run from one of Canada's best new authors." -- Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of WAKE


Layela Delamores wants nothing more than to settle into a quiet, peaceful life, running a small flower shop with her twin sister, Yoma. But Layela is tormented each night by terrifying visions that she cannot remember when she wakes. When Yoma vanishes, Layela is certain that her nightly visions hold the key - but only her sister's thieving friend, one of the last survivors of the ether races, can unlock them. Layela suspects that her friend isn't telling her the whole truth, instead sheltering her from her own visions.

Ripped from the safety of her flower shop into a universe of smugglers and assassins, Layela must pursue her sister across space in a desperate bid to overcome the destiny of destruction foretold in her dreams.

But without full knowledge of her visions, Layela has no way to prevent them from coming to pass. And the fate of a whole world is on the line: the mythical First Star is on a path to self-destruction and the annihilation of all life.

Unless Layela finds a way to stop it. But to stop it would mean sacrificing her sister.

Or herself.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ottawa Storytelling Festival

Last weekend was the Ottawa Storytelling Festival, following a one-year hiatus so that it could be revamped and refocused.  Pat Holloway, Festival Co-chair, Caitlyn Paxson, Managing Artistic Director, and all of the festival committee should be proud of what they accomplished.

Thursday night featured Ivan Coyote, a storyteller and writer from the Yukon.  She was amazing, and what was even more amazing was the audience.  New faces abound, and the old Mayfair Theatre was almost full.  And the numbers kept coming out.

The Friday night line-up included a cabaret show, which was a brilliant stroke.  What better way to infuse the Festival with energy?  And again, the audience was diverse and fun.  I told a ghost story, with some singing and dying, and I loved the set-up.  (Little “squee” moment here: lots of listeners told me they loved my story, including tellers that I now worship. It's a great honour to have respected, world-renowned tellers tell you they like your style.  And so I “squee!!”)

Saturday saw Ben Haggarty's and Sianed Jones' re-imagining of Frankenstein, and the Ottawa Steampunk folk came out in full costume, earning the honour of being called the best dressed audience the British performers had ever seen!   They were followed by Tim Tingle, a Choctaw storyteller who can draw both laughter or tears with a single sentence. 

Needless to say I loved this year's festival.  I wish I could have gone to everything, but the main problem with being in an artistic environment is the ever-present and wild creative energy, and so I ran away to write.  The muse wasn't knocking.  She was beating down the door.  I'm sure my publisher won't complain. 

I can't wait to see what's in store for the next iteration of the Ottawa Storytelling Festival.  Make sure to keep an eye out for details, and to check it out.  In fact, check out any storytelling event in the region. The Ottawa Storytellers are making leaps and bounds into a more creative and current telling, offering a diverse array of stories and styles, while still maintaining its traditional stories and venues, as well.  This is an important diversification which allows storytelling itself to evolve into an art form that's accessible, striking and, more importantly, that draws in a wider audience.  

Stories don't exist without listeners, and I couldn't be more proud of the Ottawa Storytellers for expanding the reach of its stories, and for ensuring that both the new and traditional tellings have a place on the many stages of our beautiful city.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ticks and Talks

(After reading this edge-of-your-seat tale, check out the update here.) 

I was totally going to illustrate the tick story.  It was going to be great.  See, I even started:
But then I remembered that I couldn't draw.  I figured it out out when I couldn't draw legs for me or a body for Roomy, since she was sitting down at the time and that proved too complex.  And I look pregnant, and my skirt is see-through, and there's just something generally wrong with all of this.  

But the tick looked kinda cute.  See?
Darn cute.

So anyway, I got home from a weekend away at a cottage and stretched (that's pretty accurate in the picture), and Roomy, whose got loads of hair (as depicted), asked if I had a bobo on my belly.  I looked down, and I saw some blood, and legs.  Yes, little moving legs.

Whispering "eeewww" ever so gently, I shuffled towards Roomy, who looked closer and then backed away.

"I think it's a tick," she said.

And right she was!  Roomy managed to pull out the tick with tweezers, a needle and her health card.  Well, most of the tick, anyway.  Which was pretty awesome of her as she's terrified of spiders and ticks are in the arachnid family (or so one of my friends informs me.  Note accuracy of drawing - I put in eight legs.  Eight cute legs.)

The next morning we trekked to the clinic to get the rest of the tick out, but it was too full so we went for breakfast instead.  Priorities!

On Tuesday morning, I was ousted from work to go get it checked out.  I went to a nearby clinic, waited for a bit, and the doctor called me in.  She was an adorable older woman with red hair complete with white roots, and she sat me down in front of her.

"What can I do for you, dear?"
I leaned in, eyes wide.  "I have a tick!"
"Is it still in there, dear?"
Leaned in a bit more.  "Most of it's out.  I think."
"Well, why don't you show me."
I backed up, so I wouldn't knock her down lifting my shirt.  I showed her the wound on my white belly.
"Oh yes, there's definitely something in there that's not you.  Do you want me to take it out?'

Now see, at first I thought that was a trick question, kind of like when the dentist asked if I wanted Novocain, and I thought "hey, if he's asking, then LOTS of people must get three cavities filled with absolutely no anesthetics, so I can do it, too!", and I said no, and I saw stars, felt my spine shrivel and witnessed the tunnel of darkness closing in on my vision, and I've just generally been haunted by my own stupidity ever since.  Now to show I CAN learn, I totally said "um, yes?"

So she took out this nasty needle and froze me, and with first surgical scissors and then a scalpel, she cut my tender tender belly flesh and pulled out the tick bit.  Which she showed to me.  It was little.  A paw, methinks.

The best part was the doctor having to call Telehealth Ontario.  As she's only had to deal with one tick in her (long) career as a doctor, and she hadn't heard of ticks near Westport, she wanted to make sure there were no health advisories for rampaging Lyme disease or people turning into zombies and stuff like that.  

Telehealth Ontario, it turns out, wasn't aware of ticks in that area, either.  So they've no clue what wonderful bacteria this bibitte has gifted me with, but they're very curious to find out.  Depending on "what happens to me," as was kindly put, they might put out a health advisory.  

Maman, I'm moving up in the world!

In the meantime I'm putting this super duper antibiotic cream on my belly hole.  The cream is called Bactroban, and must be said in very dramatic inflections.  It even has a theme song, now!  

All's good on the bug front, though.  My biggest concern is my unfortunate reaction to band aids.  The red welts are not the cutest thing I've ever seen.  

After all this sexy talk, don't forget the cabaret show tonight!  I'll be performing in the Vernacular Spectacular, a part of the Ottawa Storytelling Festival, starting at 10pm at St. Brigid's Centre on St. Patrick's.  Don't worry, I won't be telling the tick story.  But there will be some singing!

See you then!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Chasing Story


I recently spent a few days at a cottage in the middle of the woods with storyteller Ruthanne Edward and poet Kathryn Hunt, prepping for our upcoming National Arts Centre show The Warrior Queen: Chasing Boudicca. 

For a few days we were isolated, just the three of us, and we read books and poems, created a story arc, divvied up work and ran around in the woods with our canine companion, Willow.  We stared at the stars and imagined generations long vanished doing the same, we sang songs and danced, and we sat around fires as we pondered burning towns and lost battles.

Then on Monday I had the honour of being invited to tell at John Abbott College near Montreal.  One of the students asked an interesting question: what's your favourite part of storytelling, aside from the actual telling?

After spending a memorable few days chasing stories, it was easy enough to provide that as an answer.  It's always fun getting to know the structure of the tale you'll be telling and trying to remain true to its nature while adapting it to your particular style (or, in some cases, ignoring its nature completely.  Depends on the purpose of the show, really.)  It can take up to a hundred stories before finding one that resonates with the teller and demands to be told. 

For my recent Shenkman Centre Show, Beyond the Fields we Know, I had to find some science-fiction and fantasy stories.  Easy enough, right?  I mean, I write the stuff!  Alas.  I had lots of sci-fi stories in my repertoire, but they weren't quite hitting the mark for me.  I had to enlist Roomy's help to find another story, since she's an avid short story reader, and it took quite a few before I read one I knew I could tell.

Reciting poetry by the fire.  And my stripy socks.
There's this amazing flow of energy and words when you read one of those stories that you know you can tell well.  It hardly means that learning the story will be easy, but it will certainly be worthwhile and memorable, for both the teller and the listener.  Well, that's the hope, anyways.

So chasing story is an amazing part of storytelling.  It takes time and dedication to find the right story, but the magic created when telling them makes the efforts worthwhile.  After a few days of immersing ourselves in Boudicca's story, I can say without a doubt that the January 20th show will be completely kick-ass! 

And then I came home to deal with a tick.  Oh, yes.  But that's a post for another day.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Whole Decade, eh? No Kidding.

I recently rambled about being invited back to my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, to participate in a Religion and Culture alumni panel.  The idea was to show arts students a slew of career possibilities and that there was indeed life after an arts degree.  We were four, and it was great hearing the three other panelists, Jason Shim, Christine Mckinlay and Elysia Guzik, describe their post-degree experiences. 

But the oddest thing of all was that I was the old foggy.  I'm 32, so I haven't encountered that issue often.  All of the others were more recent grads, from 2007 and 2008.  And I have to admit, they had impressive experiences to share, so kudos to them for their ambition and time management techniques!  Two years after graduating, I'd held about ten jobs and wasn't even writing seriously yet.

The sheer act of being back on campus triggered some (rather rare) self-reflection.  Which then, of course, triggered a ramble.

I'm not overly concerned about my past.  I'm lucky in the fact that the only loved ones I've lost are pets, and I'm still in contact with all of my close family and friends.  I see the past as a road I traveled, and I hooked what was best of it along the way and I hope never to shed those things. Those are friends, family, hopes, dreams... the rest can stay on the road, with occasional (and sometimes unwanted) visits, of course.

But after ten years, plunging back into a place where you did so much growing up does stir memories.  Not necessarily of events, but rather of who I used to be.  Hopes and dreams I didn't even realize I'd left behind came back for a visit. Illusions surprised me, too, of who I was and what I could do.  And I hate to admit it, but some of that youthful optimism, heck, a lot of it, has gone to the wayside without my noticing.

Don't get me wrong, I think I still fit the "optimistic" definition in most people's dictionary, but wow was I wickedly more optimistic ten years ago.

I stopped and pondered, for a few brief seconds: was that loss a bad thing?  Maybe out of self-preservation or because of the simple realization that you really can't go back again, I decided it really wasn't.  I've been tempered by real-life experiences, by a journey that may have claimed a few dreams along the way, but that seeded many, many more.  What used to be dreams turned to plans, immediately removing that shiny glow, but adding actual results, too.  Many of the things I used to say that I would do I've now done, and the road is only wider from here on, and I have a much clearer idea of where it's leading me.  And, more importantly, of where I want it to lead me.

Optimism is still present, sure, but a more realistic optimism.  I may no longer believe I can change the world, but I do firmly believe I can change someone's day for the better.  Those beliefs are backed by the knowledge that I've done so before, and I intend to continue doing so, even if I have to hand out balloons to everyone in multiple shopping centres (try it someday.  Helium balloons make everyone happy, in my experience.)

And the best of what I had then I still have, like my friends.  I still have myself, too, and the core of what's always made me.  That was an important realization.  The filters through which I perceive the world may be a bit dustier and the light might not penetrate quite as well, but the system is tested and true and it gets regular cleanings.  I hate to quote the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same," but for the first time in my life I really felt that way about my life, about me, about my choices.  And it was at first scary, and then neat.  Looking at the road behind me highlighted how far I'd come and the lovely journey I'd undertaken.  And I still love it.

Being a bit more forward-looking, however, I can't help but turn back around and see the mountains of coolness coming my way.  Mountains that I'm sure I can climb nicely if I prepare, and it's all still in the works.  Shows, books, short stories... so much to do!  But I guess that was one of the main messages of the panel at my university: we're all works in progress.  It's lovely.

But, unlike me, my projects have very real deadlines and I can't tell a "still in progress" story!  So onward.  Thanks to my co-panelists and everyone else at Wilfrid Laurier University for a memorable, pleasant and striking stay.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Con*Cept and Ahead

I spent the weekend in Montreal at Con*Cept, and I had an absolute blast reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.  Friday night, Erik Buchanan and I held a double book launch, which was well-attended and fun.  We served chips and warm pop, and gave away some prizes.  It was fun sharing "reading space" with Erik, since he's an actor and gives a heck of good reading!

The con was great fun all around.  I participated on various panels with a bunch of talented and hilarious people (including Violette Malan, Karen Dales, Tad Williams, Jo Walton and David G. Hartwell), and gave two storytelling shows.  One of them was my first French show ever, and I loved it.  I told stories my father had told me as a child (and as an adult), and it was fun revisiting these old friends.

The concom was wonderful and well-organized, and I can't thank them all enough for their hard work and for a great con.  I'll definitely be participating again next year!

Oh, and I was honoured to be made an honourary klingon.  Two of my favourite souvenirs from Con*Cept are my Klingon Empire symbol and a hand-drawn sheep.  And all the lovely memories, of course!

Now's the time to move ahead. With my recent car problems, I've had to back out of World Fantasy Con, which makes me sad on many levels.  But I'd be much sadder having to strip my licence plates on the side of an Interstate when my car died.  In that light, it seemed an easy choice to make.  So the 2010 con season is already over for me, though it was a good one.

My next plans include two big storytelling shows and a novel to write, so the rest of the year beckons!  Onward, and all that good stuff.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Con*Cept Schedule!

Here's where I'll be at Con*Cept in Montreal this weekend:

Friday
8 pm, Gatineau Room
Writing A Series 
(Marie Bilodeau, Violette Malan(m), Karen Dales, Jo Walton)

 9-11 pm, St-François Room
Blood and Magics - A Double Book Launch
Montreal launch of Destiny's Blood and Erik Buchanan's Cold Magics.  Yes, there will be treats AND door prizes!

Saturday
11 am, Grand Salon
Storytelling (English)
I'll be telling a bunch'o different tales.

Sunday 
11 am, St-François Room
Canadian Writers
(David Hartwell(m), Jo Walton, Marie Bilodeau, Glenn Grant)

Noon, St-François Room
Killing Your Babies 
(Tad Williams, Erik Buchanan(m), Marie Bilodeau, Violette Malan)

5 pm, Grand Salon
Storytelling (français)
Yup, first time telling in French!  And I don't believe in the halfway, dipping the toes in to see if the water's cold way, I'm jumping in with an hour-long set!

Aside from that, I'll more than likely be at the Dragon Moon Press table during the day, with author Erik Buchanan, or wandering the halls/bar when the dealers room is closed.  

Can't wait to see you all there!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Change of Plans

This weekend was supposed to be a Kymeras escape weekend (minus Sean Zio), so we could plan our set for the Boudicca show (National Arts Centre, January 20.  Be there or be square!)

But events move quickly, sometimes.  My car blew up.  Then the lovely Ruthanne Edward is down for a few days.  As far as I know, Kathryn Hunt is still intact, although a bit stressed with final preparations underway for the Ottawa International Writers Festival (totally worth checking out!)

So things change quickly and now instead of being away at a cottage retreat creating a set around a warrior queen slaughtering Romans, I'll be staying home.  The car won't be ready until tomorrow, and Roomy already has a full slate of pony plans, so she's busy.  (Last week we swapped the pony and writing rooms, to give her more room and give me more light, so she has many ponies to unpack.  She's going to count them, too, so that should be entertaining.  She says almost 500, I say more than.  We'll see...)

Anyway, this weekend can also be seen as a blessing.  I have lots of work left to do on Destiny's War, and now's the time to get some done!  Plus I get to rehearse my two storytelling sets for Con*Cept.  I'll be telling my first show in French,, so it's a bit nerve-wracking.  And I'm not quite sure why, as it IS my maternal tongue.  Go fig.

So it promises to be a relaxing weekend in the writing room, with occasional outings to visit Kymeras and make sure Roomy wasn't killed by falling pony castles.  Not to mention upping the word count - that deadline is coming up, fast! 

Happy weekending, everyone!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ad Astra vs Parliament Security

I've dealt with them both, you see, and therefore feel I have a good grasp of both systems.  Why compare them?  Um, because I can?

First team:  Parliament Security.  Parliament is a big place where Canada is run, and it's nested on a Hill.  Quite pretty.  Their security team, incidentally, is also referred by some as the RCMP.  Check out the Parliament of Canada.

Second team:  Ad Astra Security.  Ad Astra is a con in Toronto - check it out.  Spent a weekend there.  Wicked fun - everyone should come next year.  Truly.

The teams:

Let's start with the RCMP, as it's the first one I dealt with on an up-close and personal level.

TEAM 1 - RCMP

I did not get lost.  I did not wander, I did not pry, and I did not even cry.  I did not use my wicked lock picking skillz, I did not open doors I shouldn't have, nor read things left about (okay, nothing was left about).  But I still was put under house arrest.

The event:  Meeting Prime Minister Harper with a bunch of school kids for photo opp.

The item:  I had a t-shirt to give him.  An extra large t-shirt, as his shoulders bear a mighty, mighty load.

The issue:  Incompetent press secretary sent us to wrong room and forgot to inform security of my presence.

Time spent in captivity:  Long enough to miss visit with PM and develop healthy appetite.  It was a pretty room, though.  Some big important papers had been signed there, to my understanding. 

Resolution:  Escorted outside with no apology or explanation.  Kids had fun, though! (They weren't in captivity with me. Thank goodness.  Mostly for my own sanity.)

Lessons learned: Bring snacks and a bottle of water.

TEAM 2 - AD ASTRA SECURITY

I did get lost.  I totally wandered and I even pried.  In the wrong room.  I cried some, did not use my wicked lock picking skillz (promised Roomy to be good), did read things that were left about and generally turned out to be confused and of questionable sanity.  Woke up with laryngitis the next day, so like to blame bugs in part, wine in other parts.

The event:  My own storytelling panel at Ad Astra, featuring moi and no one else.  When the one panelist doesn't show up for their own show, people notice (sci-fi crowds are swift, to be fair).

The item: I blame the wine.  I will always blame the wine.

The issue: See above.  Okay, really though, I got the rooms confused.  I have poor reading skills.  Sad for an author.

Time spent in captivity:  45 minutes with wine, whining to publisher Brian Hades about the fact that no one had come to my show.
When this woman comes for you, you hustle.
Resolution.  Body builder and writer extraordinaire Sandra Wickham stalked me in bar and hauled me off in her three-inch heels.  Meanwhile, Ad Astra security did not mess around, scouting the entire hotel for me.  As I ran to the (correct) room with Sandra, there was much recognition and joy by security that I'd been found (drinking).  Arrived in room with time for one story.  Launched in and managed to get unfrazzled quickly.

Lessons learned:  Read your schedule right, dummy.  And don't stiff your publisher with the wine bill halfway through your glass when the body builder comes to haul you to your own show.  It's a very applicable lesson for many different moments in life.

Points

I learned early on it's not a competition without a score, it's not a score without points, and there are no points without vague and sometimes inapplicable categories.  So here we go. 

Responsiveness
Ad Astra: 1 (I was searched for.)
RCMP: 1 (I was kept in a room.)

Ability to determine problem
Ad Astra:  1 (Storyteller missing.  Go.)
RCMP: 0  (Girl in room. She has a Harper-sized t-shirt.  Keep her there.)

Uniforms
Ad Astra: 1 (Although yellow is generally a difficult colour to pull off, it was just the right shade that most of their security staff looked quite lovely in it.)
RCMP: 2 (They had full weaponry and boots.)

Follow-through
Ad Astra: 2 (Extra point for learning lesson and randomly making sure I'd get to the right spot during following day.  Very smart..)
RCMP: 0  (I'm still allowed on Parliament Hill, I believe.)

Canadian-ism
Ad Astra: 2 (Very polite, made jokes and were in a jovial mood.  Kind of like the Canadian of legend who sips on a mug of hot cocoa after a cold day cutting down logs and hunting polar bears.  Effective, and happy being so.)
RCMP: 1 (Ya, that's right, I'm giving the Royal CANADIAN Mounted Police only a "1" on Canadian-ism.  I was their guest, in their house, and the least they could have done was offer me a glass of water.  Poor hosting skills are not very Canadian, in my opinion.  Not when there are polar bears everywhere.)

So, if I counted correctly (I also have poor numeracy skills), that makes:
Ad Astra: 7
RCMP: 4

And so, by my very questionable scoring system, the Ad Astra security team wins for being best security detail!  And that's why they got the box of timbits on the day following my disappearing act.

I feel I should add a third security detail to really get a feel for the systems.  We'll see when next I get into some sort of trouble spurred on by my incompetence and manage to attract security, and then I'll re-work the comparison!  In the meantime, here's a shout out to the Ad Astra security team:

Now if a badly hand-drawn and poorly scanned picture endorsed by the 15 year-old coconut that lives in my basement isn't reward enough, I simply don't know what is.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Nostalgia (But not really). Part 2.


Once back at Laurier, I made a vow to try harder.  I'd made it this far, and it seemed silly to give up now, just because of a language barrier.  So I strapped down, visited the writing centre, talked to my teachers, got used to people screaming "pamplemousse" at me once they heard my accent (and stopped asking "excuse me?"), and joined clubs to meet new people.

I in fact became an exec with the science-fiction club, "Skiffy," thanks to the enthusiastic invite of the then-president, Rick Henderson.   It was the start of something wonderful.  I loved Skiffy and always will.

Anyway, so about the people who kept me at Laurier.  There were four of them, actually.

The first was in my German class and an archaeology major, as well (because learning a third language in a second language you barely understand is a fine idea, my friends!)  But despite all the classes we shared, I didn't notice her until one day in the cafeteria, near condiments.  She was wearing an "Excalibur" shirt.  I had no clue who the people on it where, but I was a fan of King Arthur, and I liked the look.  So I complimented her on the shirt.  She thanked me and asked if I liked Excalibur.  I said of course I did (I do love King Arthur).  She then offered to lend me comics, which she will admit to this day that it is something she never does (after almost fifteen years of friendship, I can attest to that).  She has been referred to in this blog before, as roomy, since she's currently (or again, whatever), my roomy.  But because it's now her official name, I'll give her a capital "R" - Roomy.  Makes it more official.

Roomy introduced me to her high school friend, Ren.  Ren was quiet and shy and oh-so very tall, and a hoot to be around, so the three of us had a ball.

Meanwhile, on my quest to make more friends, I went to the archaeology club meeting and decided, for some unknown reason, to sit in the third seat of the front row, in a four seat row (I know, I know, sitting in the front row isn't cool, but I'm a keener, what can I say).  Three people came in together.  One short girl with almond-shaped eyes sat beside me, and her tall roommate squeezed in the empty seat on the other side of me (the room was full, they had little choice.  MWA HA HA!)  The tall girl did not squeeze into that seat gracefully.  Her legs went everywhere and so did she.  I made fun of her and we were immediate friends.  Her name is Kat.  And her roommate's name is Wess.

So I had two groups of two friends.  I don't remember the awkward getting to know each other phase.  The next thing I really remember is having a timbits eating contest against Kat, and trying not to choke.  The contest was a tie.

The team, à la felt.
It turned out that all of these friends loved science-fiction as well, and I'm pretty certain that's how the whole group met.  And when we did meet, it was magic.  All five of us hit it off amongst ourselves.  By Christmas, we had taken over the lounge in Kat and Wess' dorm.  We played pool, watched Xena, laughed way too much, teased each other, wrote stories, debated the value of red shirts, and yes, at times we studied.  In second year we all moved in together, except Ren, who was a business student and actually needed more study time than the rest of us delinquents.  And even then, Ren would come live with us in the summers when Kat headed back home for work. The five of us became a team. 

By year 2, we had taken over Skiffy.  And we had a ball.  We all received good grades in school, although I don't remember studying.  By year 3, the club was so active that we won Most Active Club award.  Anime nights, game release parties, Magic the Gathering games, movie nights, Capture the Flag games, storytelling, Kill vs Save Pikachu fundraising events... we did it all.  My brother came down quite a few times to visit (he saved Pikachu with a large donation), and was instrumental in our Final Fantasy VIII launch party (disappointing game, good party!)

Oh, and my team and I played games, watched movies, read books, spoiled plots, watched stars and talked about the future, held each other when family members passed away and made bad jokes on bad days and studied together and oh ya, we shouted at each other, too, and had wicked battles and always made up.  We napped in lounges, made football guys watch soap operas, stole each other's stuff and were just a general chaotic force of nature.  And we loved it.

By Reading Week of our first year in February, Wess and I decided to stay behind on campus and enjoy the week together.  We didn't have the money to take the train home, and I certainly didn't mind.  We had a blast and ate lots of beefaronis.  By the end of first year, my funds were tight.  Roomy's mom, who had never met me before, offered to rent a van, come up to Waterloo to pick me and my stuff up (and her daughter), and drive to Ottawa.  They live in Belleville, so that's three hours (times two) out of their way.  I remember thinking that this family was worth keeping.

And we all did.  Four years later, Ren and I graduated first, and we cried when we left our friends (following a repeat of the timbits eating contest.  Another tie.)  Ren moved  in with my mom and I, and when we both had jobs and could afford to live on our own, we got apartments in the same building.  And a cat!  We undertook our journeys in the "real world" together, trying to find our footing and careers in the vast sea of employment.  When the rest of the girls graduated a year later, we headed down to Waterloo to celebrate with them.  Kat headed back home to Amherstburg, near Windsor. 

Wess came up a couple of years later, and although her family lives in Ottawa, she moved in with me (I'm fun!)  We had a riot.  Just sitting and chatting by candlelight long into the night, convincing ourselves the high school behind our house was haunted, adopting random strays my brother brought into the house (he's useful, that one).

And then Roomy came up to do her PhD at the University of Ottawa, and she moved only an apartment building away.

And Wess moved out, to live with my brother (they shared cooties).  At their wedding, Wess' father joked in his speech that the five of us were together so often that they'd wondered if we were all going on the honeymoon (we didn't.  Cause ew.)

When Roomy's funding was drawing to an end, I invited her to join me in my apartment.  Why not?  It was big and her family's kindness from the end of first year was never forgotten.  How we managed to combine our two apartments into mine still boggles my mind. 

Ren then moved away, to be closer to work, since her commute was long and involved crossing a very full bridge.  With Wess and Ren now living further away, and our apartment developing what we fondly called Lake Bilodeau, we too moved, and we're not too far from our friends again. And we see them regularly, with and without husbands.  Girls' night once every two weeks!

And Kat? Well, she's still in Amherstburg.  She's married to a man she loves.  We all headed down for her wedding, they came up for Ren's wedding (freshly married for almost a year, now).  The best part is that all of the husbands are now like brothers, too (well, one of them IS my brother, technically).

Every time we see Kat, it's like no time has passed at all.  We were still the first she told when she found out she was pregnant, and the first she contacted when she miscarried.  And we all cried with her and toasted the unborn baby's life.  We're all going to be her children's aunties, after all.

All 8.5 team members, husbands and babies.
We see Kat at least twice a year.  We in fact spent a whole week together at a cottage this summer, somewhat but not really midpoint between our hometowns.  That's eight adults and a two-year old toddler, in a five-room cottage.  We had a blast again, and I can't remember a single argument.  And I capsized my roomy into the lake, too!

So that's what I was thinking of when I was writing about what kept me at Laurier.  It was the people.  These four, to be precise.  Other friends came and went, but some people became family.  They became a priority in my life, and I make time for them, no matter what book deadline I'm under or what storytelling gig is coming up.  Nowadays, our families are as mixed as our friendships.  My friends will go out with my mom, we'll celebrate occasions as one big family and we'll share joy and sadness. 

That bond that kept me going through university, that saw me happily going back to it after my first year Christmas, is still very much alive.  No crises or disaster needs to be faced alone, no bitterness swallowed whole, no scream go unheard with my team.  It's a wicked feeling, and it still keeps me going.  Rough days are easier to bear knowing that, although they are not always by my side, with one phone call, one e-mail, one Facebook update, even, they'll still rally and have my back.

We've all grown, changed, pursued different dreams, and I hope we continue to do so, and that our friendship continues to grow, as well.  It got me through university, it got me through other tight spots, and it's nice to feel as though it'll always be there, no matter what.

And that's why I entitled these blog posts "Nostalgia (But not really)."  I'm not feeling nostalgic for something I no longer have, since I still have it.  I don't feel nostalgic for days gone by, since I still have what was best in them.

It's not nostalgia so much as gratefulness for where I am today, and for the people who made it all possible, whether they were aware of it or not.
Art by Roomy